Community Canvas: Taylor McAda’s Vibrant Mural on Madison’s State Street

On April 21st, 2024, hundreds of volunteers accompanied four local artists in Madison, Wisconsin for a public painting event to help decorate the 400-600 blocks of State Street. This project is the first embodiment of the city of Madison’s pedestrian mall experiment, set to kick off in May. Taylor McAda, Promega Senior Graphic Designer, was selected to design and paint one of four original 20-foot circle murals.

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Designing Science: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Our Recent Journal Cover Art

A 3D illustration showing RAF inhibitor LXH254 engages BRAF or CRAF protomers (orange), but spares ARAF (red). Unoccupied ARAF is competent to trigger downstream mitogenic signaling, which is demonstrated with lightning bolts. Red cells in the background are fluorescently labeled RAS proteins, expressed in live cells. The Cell Chemical Biology cover type superimposes the image.
Image adapted from original artwork by iSO-FORM LLC.

We made the cover! Of Cell Chemical Biology, that is.

This July, Cell Chemical Biology editors accepted a study from Promega scientists and invited the research team to submit cover art for the issue. The study in question details a BRET-based method to quantify drug-target occupancy within RAF-KRAS complexes in live cells. Promega scientists Matt Robers and Jim Vasta collaborated with one of our talented designers, Michael Stormberg, to craft an image that accurately represents the science in a dynamic and engaging way.

You can check out the paper and cover art in the November 16 issue of Cell Chemical Biology.

I spoke with Michael Stormberg to learn more about the creative process that went into creating this cover art and how he worked with the research team and other collaborators.

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Kornberg Innovation Seminars: Inspiring Creativity in Promega R&D

Kornberg Center was designed to accelerate scientific exploration.

“Are you going to the talk?”

The refrain regularly echoes through the halls of every academic lab building. During our education, we’re treated to a non-stop supply of speakers on every subject we can imagine. Prestigious speaker series gave us chances to hear from some of the world’s most prominent experts on subjects that would shape scientific pursuits for the next decade and beyond. When we leave academia, however, it can be difficult to find those same opportunities to learn. Sure, there are lab meetings and conferences, but when can you be treated to a renowned expert giving a talk just down the hall?

Promega Head of Biology Frank Fan aimed to address that problem when he developed a plan for the Kornberg Innovation Seminars (KIS), a recurring speaker series to be held in the new home for Promega R&D. Kornberg Center is an environment where Promega scientists are challenged to think outside-the-box and anticipate the challenges life science researchers will be facing tomorrow. Frank believed that opportunities to learn from a wide variety of guest experts would be critical for inspiring that type of thinking.

“Promega R&D focuses on understanding scientists’ needs and providing novel solutions,” Frank says. “The KIS program is about helping us achieve that vision.”

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Connecting and Collaborating: How Scientists Across the Globe are Supporting Each Other During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Many research labs around the world have temporarily closed their doors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while others are experiencing unprecedented need for reagents to perform viral testing. This urgency has led many scientists to make new connections and build creative, collaborative solutions.

“In labs that are still open for testing or other purposes, there’s certainly heightened anxiety,” says Tony Vanden Bush, Client Support Specialist. “I feel that right now, I need to help them deal with that stress however possible.”

Last week, Tony was contacted by a lab at the University of Minnesota that was preparing to serve as a secondary COVID-19 testing facility for a nearby hospital lab. The two labs needed to process up to 6,000 samples per day, and the university lab was far short of that capacity.

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Collaboration Brings Researchers to a New Level of Discovery

2018 Steenbock Symposium program graphic. Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison Biochemistry Media Lab

At the 2018 40th Steenbock Symposium at University of Wisconsin-Madison, twenty-seven researchers from RNA and related fields convened at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery to share “eureka” moments in their careers. It was so inspiring to hear from founding members of the RNA community, including Joan Steitz, Christine Guthrie, John Abelson, and Harry Noller. I noticed a recurring theme throughout the talks: many of these epiphanies resulted from informal meetings (quite often at a bar or social event) between colleagues in different groups, sometimes from different universities. They discussed tough problems and brainstormed about how to solve them, pondered about what their peculiar results could mean biologically, or dreamed, “wouldn’t it be cool if we could  <insert awesome idea here>?” and then came up with a way to do it. It sounded like a wonderful time to be a scientist! Sitting together freely sharing ideas, motivated by curiosity and the joy of doing science.

As I thought back to my research career to look for instances of such encounters, I was happy to find a few. “Philosophy” Meetings during grad school and Tea Time during my postdoc—informal social events to bring people together from different labs and departments with drinks and snacks. RNA Cluster Meetings during grad school and RNA MaxiGroup during my postdoc—events where people interested in a certain research area (in this case RNA) would gather for dinner and to hear an informal research talk. These organized events were intended to provide a forum for conversations between scientists to spark new ideas. Sometimes, I would talk to someone in a totally different field and learn something new. But I really didn’t have an epiphany about my own research. I often found myself (and others) scurrying away after the event to get back to lab work. Was I missing out on the best part of the meeting: the after-discussion?

My reflection on the Steenbock Symposium talks led me to ask a somewhat troubling question:

In today’s competitive research environment, have we missed out on crucial discoveries and technological advances because they weren’t given the right environment in which to develop?

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Biotechnology in Space: Partnering with the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium

The BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute (BTC Institute) has been a member of the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC) since 2002. As an educational arm of NASA, the mission of WSGC “is to use the excitement and vision of space and aerospace science to equip the citizens of Wisconsin with the math, science and technology tools they need to thrive in the 21st century.”

Also as noted on WSGC’s website, “The mission of NASA’s Space Grant Program is to contribute to the nation’s science enterprise by funding education, research, and informal education projects through a national network of university-based Space Grant consortia.” Members of these consortia include academic institutions, government agencies, businesses and other educational organizations, such as the BTC Institute.
Of particular relevance to the WSGC/BTC Institute partnership, Space Grant Program goals include working to:

  • Recruit and train professionals, especially women, and underrepresented minorities, and persons with disabilities, for careers in aerospace related fields.
  • Develop a strong science, mathematics, and technology education base from elementary through university levels.

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