S.C.I.E.N.C.E. at Home

Today’s blog is written by guest blogger, Aidan Holmes, biotechnology instructor at the BTC Institute.

For K-12 students and their teachers, the BioPharmaceutical Technology Center Institute (BTC Institute) prioritizes offering in-person, hands-on science activities in classroom, laboratory and outdoor settings.  We are simply one among many educational organizations globally whose traditional program offerings have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

How might we keep sharing our love of science with upper elementary and middle school students?  We decided that one way to do that is to cull resources for parents/caregivers and feature ones we think make for great Science-at-Home experiences for children in these age groups. 

In doing this, we’ve come up with criteria that you may also find useful as you look at activities (including the ones we offer) that you might want to do with the children in your life.  These criteria reflect both practical considerations, assessment of educational values and recognize the impact of current stay-at-home orders. Is the activity:

We will go through these S.C.I.E.N.C.E. considerations and at the end, provide an example of how one of the activities on our website, “Milk Fireworks,” meets our S.C.I.E.N.C.E. goals!

Continue reading “S.C.I.E.N.C.E. at Home”

A Valuable AP Biology Throwback

Today’s blog is written by guest blogger, Isobel Utschig, a science teacher at Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay, WI. We bring this to you in celebration of #TeacherAppreciationWeek 2020

About 10 years ago, I attended a field trip at the Biopharmaceutical Technology Center Institute with my AP Biology classmates. I felt apprehensive upon seeing the micropipettes and other “foreign” lab supplies on the benchtops. We learned that we would be using enzymes to cut DNA and visualize those different fragments on a gel. I marveled at the glowing streaks and found it incredible that I was looking (albeit indirectly) at real pieces of DNA. As we moved into the genetic transformation activity I was even more intrigued. We opened the tubes of bacteria and added some luciferase DNA, which would allow the bacteria to create a light-producing protein.  We then “heat shocked” the bacteria to coax them to take up these plasmids from their environment looking at the bacteria later, their glow revealed our success. The day flew by and at the end I marveled at all that we had done!

Students from Dominican High School AP Biology busy at work 
during a BTC Institute field trip
Students from Dominican High School AP Biology busy at work
during a BTC Institute field trip

Three years later I joined a research lab at Marquette University. Upon seeing the lab benches full of unfamiliar equipment, the same wave of apprehension came over me. My PI introduced me to the first task: digest a plasmid with restriction enzymes and verify the cut with gel electrophoresis. Memories of the high school field trip flooded my mind as I gripped a micropipette and attempted to nimbly load the wells. While I greatly improved in my skills over the course of the summer, the familiarity I had from my trip to the BTC Institute put me at ease from the beginning.  

Continue reading “A Valuable AP Biology Throwback”

Skype a Scientist While You Stay at Home

A few weeks into Wisconsin’s Safer at Home order, I saw a tweet from Sarah McAnulty, PhD, the founder and Executive Director of Skype a Scientist, proclaiming that the organization was making a big change in response to the COVID-19 pandemic—they were allowing groups smaller than five people to sign up, meaning that families stuck at home during the pandemic could meet a scientist virtually in their living room.

Skype a Scientist provides an easy way to for people to meet a scientist and allows scientists to reach people from all over the world without having to leave the lab. Teachers (and now families) can choose the type of scientist that is a good fit, from computer scientists to marine biologists and everything in between. You can also request a scientist from a group that is underrepresented in STEM fields so that participants can see a scientist who looks like them or can relate to their experiences.

I learned about Skype a Scientist a few years ago after listening to an episode of the HelloPhD podcast. I remember wishing this program had existed when I was a high school science teacher, so I was ecstatic to learn it was now possible to participate and immediately filled out the online application for our family to be matched with a scientist. We received our match the next day and scheduled a call with our scientist the following week.

Continue reading “Skype a Scientist While You Stay at Home”

WiSciFest 2019: A Retrospective

This past weekend was the 9th Annual Wisconsin Science Festival, and we at Promega were excited to join in the celebration of science throughout the state. We participated in the Discovery Expo on Thursday and Friday, where dozens of demonstrations and exhibits were scattered throughout the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery building. Thousands of children on field trips filled the halls, eager to poke and prod at strange and exciting new things.

At our table, we talked about the science of bioluminescence. With 3D-printed firefly luciferase models in hand, we showed the glow of recombinant luciferase to the incoming children and explained to them how scientists could use bioluminescence like a tiny “flashlight” to look inside of cells and watch what’s happening. Our learners received a nice little reward for their attentiveness in the form of glow-in-the-dark firefly stickers.

Thank you to the tablecloth for providing the darkness needed to grab this pic.
Continue reading “WiSciFest 2019: A Retrospective”

Conferences Are Important for High School Students—Youth Apprentices and STEM Professional Development

 

Isabel Jones presenting her research at the BMES Conference in Atlanta, October 2018.
Isabel Jones presenting her research at the BMES Conference in Atlanta, October 2018.

As adults, we can all attest to the benefits of attending professional conferences. They provide us with opportunities to present and share with others, network, and renew and refresh in our field. For some of us, that first conference, at the college or early employment level, may have contributed significantly to a sense of ourselves as professionals.  But what does it mean to someone younger?

Recently, three high school students enrolled in the Dane County Biotechnology Youth Apprentice (YA) Program were able to conferences related to their interest in pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers.  Here’s what they discovered. Continue reading “Conferences Are Important for High School Students—Youth Apprentices and STEM Professional Development”

Modeling Scientific Inquiry

Within science education, teaching Scientific Inquiry to students has gained both traction and prominence.  Teachers are increasingly being called to teach students not only science content, but how to take the concepts of the scientific method and put them into action; to think and to act like scientists. As Karin Borgh pointed out in last month’s blog, teachers invariably run up against the limitations of time and resources as they strive to get their students to enact science.  When a teacher brings students to the BTC Institute, they gain access to some of those resources and, on a field trip-basis, a little bit more of that luxury of time.  Continue reading “Modeling Scientific Inquiry”

“Aha! Moments” in Science Education

Significant resources are required to deliver high-quality science experiences for students and their teachers. In addition to generous amounts of staff time, for both preparation and program delivery, often there are costly lab supplies. Access to a well-equipped laboratory designed to facilitate educational experiences is also important.

Of course, hands-on experiences are related to learning: for example, becoming scientifically literate, meeting science standards, preparing for AP tests. That said, many of us involved in science outreach activities will tell you that perhaps the most significant justification for these investments is that you never know when one of the students will experience that ‘Aha!’ moment which proves to be life-changing for them.

Over the years, we have heard many testimonials from students, teachers, school-to-career coordinators and other school district personnel, mentors and parents that speak to this experience. There just seems to be something about getting into the lab and engaging directly in “doing science” that stays with some participants as they head back to school, continue with their studies and on to their careers. Continue reading ““Aha! Moments” in Science Education”

Introduction to the Laboratory: A New Workshop in Partnership with the UW-Madison Center for Educational Opportunity

During the week of March 26, 2018, while many students were having fun and relaxing during Spring Break, others were busy doing extra lab work at the BTC Institute.  This four-day workshop was designed to provide an introduction to the molecular biology laboratory for students affiliated with the Center for Educational Opportunity (CeO) on the UW Madison campus.  As noted on its web site: “CeO promotes access to resources, academic achievement and personal growth for students whose parents have not received a four-year degree, students who meet specific federal family income guidelines, and students with documented disabilities.”

It is well known that first-generation college students, women and students of color persist in STEM fields at lower rates than the general population. This interferes with the creation of a diverse STEM talent pool, in turn needed to ensure diverse problem-solving perspectives.

Further, STEM fields are often seen as being stressful, given their competitive learning environments.  This may be especially discouraging for students from racial/ethnic minorities who may not have as many mentors and role models to turn to.

Group photo of attendees
Introduction to the Laboratory attendees

This workshop aimed to give students an experience that would strengthen their skills and confidence as they continue to pursue scientific paths. In addition to laboratory work, students discussed the importance of clear communication in written and oral presentations, were required to work as partners to experience teamwork, and were encouraged to use reflection and lab reporting as ways to internalize what they learned throughout the week. Continue reading “Introduction to the Laboratory: A New Workshop in Partnership with the UW-Madison Center for Educational Opportunity”

FutureQuest17: Dynamic Career Exploration for Middle School Students

Isabel Agasie speaks with middle school students at FutureQuest 17.
Isabel Agasie speaks with middle school students at FutureQuest 17.

The Dane County School Consortium and the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Career and Technical Education Division collaborated to offer FutureQuest17 on December 6th at the Alliant Energy Center.  Designed as a hands-on experience for Dane County middle school students to explore areas of potential interest within a 16 career cluster, over 70 companies provided information and activities for 5300+ attendees.

BTC Institute staff members (Isabel Agasie, Amy Prevost and Karin Borgh) and volunteer Promega production scientists (Molly Nyholm and Kay Rashka) created a lively table area that focused on bioluminescence. Our space included opportunities to see an illustration of the range of careers in a biotechnology company like Promega, practice with different sizes of pipettes, view glowing recombinant luciferase, watch a scrolling slide show illustrating bioluminescence both in nature and in the lab and consider why a scientist might be interested in bioluminescence as a research tool.

Most importantly, we were able to engage in many wonderful conversations, and for this we needed all five of us since the schedule for the day included 14 periods of 20 minutes each—our estimate is that we were able to speak with ~40–50 students during each of these cycles!

As Molly noted:

The questions students asked were fantastic!!  “What is the chemical composition of this luciferin solution?”  “How much money do you make?”  “Do all glowing creatures have the same luciferase enzyme or are they different?”  “Are there any bioluminescent fish in Wisconsin?”  “Do I have to go to school for as long as you did if I want to be a scientist?”  “What pH is this solution?”  “Does this have potassium or sodium iodide?”  “Can I do an internship?”  “Can I be on the culinary team at Promega?”  “Does my glow paint have luciferase in it?”  “Do you have to take luciferase and luciferin out of those creatures or is there a way to make it in the lab?”

Kay Rashka works with students at FutureQuest17.
Kay Rashka works with students at FutureQuest17.

And, Isabel added:

It was really great to connect with students and also with teachers. Lots of fun being surrounded by kids and fantastic adults. Some kids were surprised to learn that a biotechnology company hires people in other areas besides science. They asked about diversity and were very glad to hear that there are many different kinds of jobs in biotech companies.

Some of the other presenters in the STEM area of the event that we were in close proximity to included: the City of Madison Engineering Division (where students could construct marble runs that represented water flow), Saris (where students could ride bikes set up to display a training program), Laser Tag (try it out!), very active construction companies’ hammering stations and the MG&E’s electric car. In other words, the level of activity was high, and it was wonderful to contribute to this event—we’ll be back next year!

Playing it Forward: Biotechnology Youth Apprenticeship and Mentorship

Amani Gillette’s Story

Amani working in the laboratory of Dr. McFall-Ngai’s as a high school Youth Apprentice

Amani Gillette, a junior from LaFollette High School in Madison, started the Biotechnology Youth Apprenticeship Program (YAP) in Fall Semester, 2010.  An outstanding youth apprentice (YA) throughout her two years in the program, she excelled in both the specialized laboratory course at the BTC Institute and in her work site research under the mentorship of Professor Margaret McFall-Ngai, UW-Madison Department of Medical Microbiology & Immunology.  Amani’s characterization of a gene and protein found in a small tropical squid resulted in her first scientific publication and poster presentation.

Fast forward— after receiving a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at Michigan Technological University (which included working in a tissue engineering lab and two summers interning at Promega Corporation under the supervision of Dr. Dan Lazar to help develop an assay for autophagy), Amani is now back in Madison. She is in her second year of graduate school and, working with Dr. Melissa Skala at the Morgridge Institute for Research, is currently mentoring Biotechnology YA Ava VanDommelen (senior from DeForest High School). Following in Amani’s footsteps, Ava will present her research nationally this January at the SPIE conference (the International Society of Optics and Photonics). Continue reading “Playing it Forward: Biotechnology Youth Apprenticeship and Mentorship”