“Meet the BioArtists” recap

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Art and science are intimately intertwined. A great example of the intersection of these two topics is the BioArt contest run by our colleagues at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology [FASEB]. Since 2012, FASEB has handed out awards to the most inspiring, creative artistic images of scientific phenomena, ranging from fungal infections to nutrient uptake by plants to neuronal cell signaling.

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BioArt images were displayed on the walls of the Karl Strauss Brewery in downtown San Diego

Though scientists may be accustomed to such stunning images (and videos), the public at-large has traditionally not experienced the same level of exposure.To bring BioArt to the masses in a truly public venue, the ASBMB recently sponsored “Meet the BioArtists ” at the Karl Strauss Brewery in downtown San Diego. Images submitted by previous BioArt contest winners were printed and hung on display in the brewery for several weeks in April, enveloping patrons with plant stem cells, nerve fibers and even the Ebola virus.

While the brewery staff made a valiant effort to point out the science-themed art, it was difficult (if not impossible) for any of the viewers to make the connection between the image hanging on the wall in front of them and the science that it was inspired by. This passivity is one of the problems with art. Engagement happens only at the discretion of the audience, removing the face-to-face interactions that lead to deeper understanding: you don’t get to ask Picasso how he painted that picture, or Mozart why he wrote that musical piece. Given the overarching goal of science outreach to connect scientists and non-scientists, it is important for such events to take place in situations that allow for direct interactions between the two groups.

Nat Prunet describes his winning BioArt image for attendees

So to add that extra touch of engagement, on the evening of April 5 BioArtist winners Bryan Jones, Nat Prunet and Clarence Wigfall came to the brewery to present their science-themed works of art for the local San Diego community, as well as attendees of the EB conference. Donning white lab coats, the BioArtists mingled with customers, talked about their motivations and artistic inspirations, and described the science behind their images for nearly four hours. The constant flow of engaged visitors coming to talk science on a Tuesday night was impressive, especially considering that a Padres baseball game was taking place a few blocks away. Outreach and engagement, all at once.

After the success of the “Meet the BioArtists” event, the ASBMB is contemplating how to continue bringing science art to the public by potentially developing a BioArtists road show that can visit cities across the country. After all, these days everyone deserves to get a chance to interact with art (and science).

Pictures from the event can be found here.

Science Outreach Events at the 2015 ASBMB Annual Meeting

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If you have ever struggled to explain your research to a family member, you know how difficult it can be to effectively explain science to the lay public. Communicating clearly about your work can be tricky even when you’re talking to another scientist. The ability to communicate effectively is also a critical skill when applying for grant funding. Figuring out how to make a meaningful connection between your outreach and your research can be particularly difficult when crafting a Broader Impacts statement as part of the application for NSF funding. Luckily for those planning to attend the 2015 ASBMB Annual Meeting, the Public Outreach Committee has organized several events to address all of these issues.

The first outreach event of this year’s meeting is the “How to Incorporate Science Outreach into Your Portfolio – Best Practices and Broader Impacts” session, running from 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM on Saturday, March 28th, in room 252B. This session will start with talks from previous HOPES, Outreach Seed Grant, and UAN Student Chapter Grant winners, showcasing ASBMB’s various funding mechanisms. An informal poster networking session will be held from 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM, followed by lunch and a group discussion until 1:00 PM. Please join us! Register here so we know how many people to expect and how much food to order.

Our next event is the Science Outreach Poster Session, held during the ASBMB opening reception on Saturday evening, March 28th from 7:30 – 9:00 PM in the third level foyer. Come see all the great outreach efforts our members (and others!) are leading across the country, and learn more about how you can get involved in your own community. More information on this session can be found here.

If you have been working on a Broader Impacts Statement, bring a draft to one of our Broader Impacts Workshops. These will be held Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday from 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM outside room 252. Mentors who have successfully won NSF funding have volunteered to help you improve your drafts and show you how to distinguish yourself from other applicants. More information on these workshops can be found here.

Our last two outreach events showcase the fun side of science. The first is the unique and highly interactive session “Improv for STEM Professionals: Creating Engaging Conversations.” Dr. Raquell Holmes, founder of improvscienceTM, will lead this session on Monday, March 30th from 12:30 – 2:00 PM in room 253B. Performed interviews, collaborative storytelling, and other exercises will help attendees learn how to create rapport with and to listen to an audience, making them more engaging speakers both in outreach activities and in professional talks.

Our final outreach event is, appropriately, open to the public. Dr. Raquell Holmes will lead “LIvE: the Living Improv Experiment” at Ned Devine’s Irish Pub, 1 Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Quincy Market Building, at 6:30 PM on Monday, March 30th. This living experiment is focused on defining how exactly improv can help science? Can it help everyone communicate more clearly? Can it be useful for starting public discussions? Come find out! Please invite your friends and colleagues, both in and outside the laboratory, to join us. This event is going to be a lot of fun, and to get the most of out it you should prepare to be very actively involved. We’ll start with group exercises and then move on to small groups, so that everyone gets a chance to practice and learn! Use this link to register.

For more information about all of our outreach events, please click here. We hope to see you in Boston!

Strengthening Teacher-Scientist Partnerships

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Ask a scientist what “outreach” means to them, and the majority will mention something about working with K-12 students. Unfortunately, these types of interactions tend to be sporadic, poorly executed, and bereft of quantitative assessment and evaluation, depriving those involved of any true, long-lasting benefit. To rectify this situation, a disparate group of programs has sprung up across the country, each aiming to create substantial, sustainable partnerships between the scientific research and K-12 education communities.

ITSP Program CoverSeveral of these programs were on display at the second International Teacher-Scientist Partnership Conference, held February 11 and 12 in San Francisco, CA. Hosted by the UCSF Science and Health Education Partnership, the meeting brought together various stakeholders, including teachers, students, researchers and administrators, to share best practices and identify areas for improvement.

Highlighting the conference were the two keynote addresses, the first a discussion between former National Academies of Science President Bruce Alberts and Shirley Malcom, Director for Education and Human Resources Programs at AAAS. Both speakers applauded the formation of such partnerships, and emphasized the need for teachers and scientists to learn from each other. Malcom even went so far as to point out that implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) necessarily required such collaborations.

On the second day, Helen Quinn, former Chair of the National Research Council’s Board on Science Education, talked about the need for three-dimensional science learning that incorporated facts, practices and concepts, an approach that informed the development of the NGSS. Echoing Malcom, Quinn pointed to teacher-scientist partnerships as a necessary tool for implementing the NGSS, pointing out that the standards imposed new demands on science teachers that would be impossible to meet without the provision of additional, novel support and professional development.

The bulk of the conference was filled with overlapping sessions and workshops that showcased different approaches to forming and sustaining partnerships. Despite the differences between programs, several consistent themes did emerge:

  1. Defined roles and outcomes

Oftentimes, the biggest failing in these partnerships comes from the fact that the goals, objectives and intended outcomes have not been agreed upon by both sides beforehand, leading to confusion and ineffectiveness. All presenters pointed out that their success stemmed from jointly working with both scientists and teachers (and their students) to resolve these issues in advance of any activities, so that everyone was able to be on the same page. A second point of emphasis was that for a particular partnership to be successful, scientists need to act as resources and role models, rather than as instructors. In this way, scientists can greatly increase the accessibility students (and teachers) have to the research enterprise, helping to remove the barriers between these groups.

  1. Local, bottom-up approach

While expressing support for a concerted, national support network (such as the soon-to-be extinct NSF Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) Program), almost all presenters and attendees spoke about the need to develop programs and collaborations locally. Though all in attendance were in support of a concerted effort to effect broad change in the education system, there was a general agreement that focusing effort on working with individual classrooms, schools and even school districts allows for more fluid partnerships that are more easily able to steer clear of the messy politics so often responsible for impediments to reform in education.

  1. Sustainability (resources, participation)

Funding was a major issue for all involved, as financial support for non-traditional education activities is sporadic. Presentations from the West Virginia Health Sciences & Technology Academy and the Integrated Science Education Outreach (InSciEd Out) program at the University of Minnesota highlighted their ability to successfully raise funding from a wide variety of local sources, both big and small, again pointing to the need for local connections. Attendees added that another difficulty was in maintaining participation by both scientists and teachers, and suggested establishing pipelines that would funnel both towards each other.

  1. Evaluation and Assessment

Recognizing that assessing the impact of a particular activity or program is inherently difficult, most presenters were nonetheless able to point to a proven track record of improved STEM learning and performance for students, thanks to the ability to follow students throughout their primary education. More qualitative feedback from scientists and teachers demonstrates a nearly universal benefit in terms of professional development and willingness to engage and participate.

 

The conference will be held again in 2017, by which point even more programs will have undoubtedly arisen. In the interim, ASBMB will be using our connections and resources to increase awareness of, and participation by, our members in such partnerships. If you are interested in finding out more about these partnerships, contact the ASBMB Public Outreach Office at outreach@asbmb.org.

 

More information about the conference, including a list of participating programs, can be found here.

A summary of tweets from the meeting is available here.

Story Of My Life

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Slogging my way through a career as a scientist, somehow I always felt drawn to the world of punk rock. As an undergraduate at Cornell University, I hoped to surreptitiously bump into Bad Religion lead singer Greg Graffin, then working on his Ph.D. in zoology in the building across from my lab. In grad school, I spent my late nights and weekends in the lab doing experiments to the blaring sounds of Social Distortion and X-Ray Spex. I even included an ode to some of my favorite punk bands in my Ph.D. thesis, thanking them for the solace and wisdom that they provided me as I struggled to complete my research project. Yet I never could quite figure out how the two worlds of science and punk rock went together beyond merely being passions of mine. A few years ago, I stumbled across an article from The Scientist that talked about how punk rock and science actually share a number of common characteristics. The story also mentioned a number of punk rockers who had science backgrounds, including Graffin, along with Milo Aukerman from Descendents and Dexter Holland from The Offspring. Finally, it appeared that my worlds had collided.

More importantly, by this point I had become the public outreach coordinator for ASBMB, which essentially meant that I got paid to bring science to punk rock fans and punk rock to scientists. I conjured crazy, fantastic dreams about how I could exploit this synergy. Could I organize a concert that featured these bands at our annual meeting? How about a panel discussion about science during the Warped Tour?

The only thing tempering my imagination was my inability to put a plan into action. For years, the idea lay dormant as I tried to devise the perfect outlet for my vision. Finally, pushed by my dedicated colleague Raj Mukhopadhyay, I consented to co-author a series of articles about Aukerman, Graffin and Holland for ASBMB Today. At first, I was slightly discouraged by how the situation had resolved itself, worried that writing a few profile pieces for a bunch of scientists would have limited impact. No, I wanted the whole world to know this story and to gain a true appreciation of science and scientists.

What helped me overcome my reservations was realizing that I was going to get to play out one of my lifelong dreams: I actually was going to interview some of my musical idols! The thought of talking Bad Religion lyrics with their author or sharing stories about growing up in Southern California with Dexter motivated me to go full throttle into this project. I was not disappointed. As a music fan, the thrill of conducting these interviews was exceeded only by the incredibly thoughtful, insightful discussions we had with Milo, Greg and Dexter about their scientific passions, musical interests and career outlooks, discussions that I never wanted to end.


During the writing process, my inner punk rocker finally got to come out and meet the world. I threw in every punk reference my editor, Angela Hopp, would allow, along with some that she didn’t. (Seriously punk fans, tell me how perfect a title “What We Do Is Secret” would have been for the series?) But hey, I did manage to work a reference to The Ramones into a science story. How cool is that?

One small moment stands out from this whole process: While interviewing Milo, we got to talking about his musical interests, which surprisingly included the prog rock band Yes. Trying to demonstrate my legitimacy as a punk rock expert, I pointed to a song by the punk band Dead Kennedys titled “Short Songs” that makes a sarcastic reference to the contrast between the brevity of punk and long-windedness of progressive rock. Not only did Milo respond that he knew the song, he even sang the chorus. (We have it on tape!)

 

But back to my original quandary: how to bring science to the masses through an article series? Well, the articles have been shared more than 1000 times on Facebook and re-tweeted more than 200 times on Twitter. We got a boatload of comments and plaudits, from fans and scientists alike. We even set the record for most ever pageviews on ASBMB Today. I’d say that’s some pretty successful science outreach. What’s more, having now talked shop with these punk legends, my craving for acceptance as a certified punk finally has been satisfied. Gabba gabba hey.

 

To get insights from my co-author Raj Mukhopadhyay, check out her reflections on this whole process on her Wild Types blog.

Outreach Posters at Experimental Biology 2015

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One of the biggest challenges in the field of science outreach is to facilitate opportunities that bring scientists and informal science education experts together. Often, each group has several members in the same local community who are interested, even willing to engage with the other, but have no way to do so. On occasion, there are individuals able to bridge this divide. Yet if the broader push to enhance science outreach as an endeavor is to succeed, it will be necessary for even more willing participants to come together and join forces.

For the past two years, ASBMB has featured a poster session at our annual meeting dedicated exclusively to showcasing outreach activities and programs, thereby providing an opportunity for our 2015-AnnualMeeting-signaturemember scientists to get a sense of all that informal science education entails. This year, we are happy to again offer this poster session on the first night of our meeting, directly following the Herbert Tabor Research Award Plenary Lecture on the evening of March 28. However, as an added bonus, this year we have made registration for the outreach poster session completely FREE OF CHARGE. That means if you have a program or activity that you want to show off to the entire ASBMB membership, all you have to do is submit an abstract. No registration fee, no abstract fee, nothing. Just fill out our online form and show up.

For those involved with outreach and informal science education, this poster session is a great opportunity to showcase your pet project and start recruiting scientists for your effort. ASBMB Annual Meeting 2014- Outreach Poster SessionMeanwhile, for scientists, this event is the perfect chance to see what outreach actually is, to meet some of the people who are doing it, and find out how you can get involved.

So if you have an outreach project, informal science education activity or community program, come join us in Boston area next spring and show off what you do to a captive scientific audience. There’s no cost, but the benefit could be priceless.

To submit your poster abstract for the outreach poster session, visit: http://www.asbmb.org/PublicOutreach/EB2015PosterSession/

Making the Windy City a Little More Windy

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The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science is a hodgepodge of talks, presentations and workshops from across the scientific spectrum. In recent years, the theme of science communication has featured prominently throughout the meeting. This year’s version, held last month in a frigid Chicago, continued that trend.

The meeting kicked off with the annual International Public Science Events Conference (IPSEC), attended by outreach and public science professionals from across the globe. With an overall theme of incorporating science into popular culture, IPSEC 2014 featured several sessions focused on strategies for going beyond standard outreach activities to reach non-traditional audiences. A wonderful example was presented by Mark SubbaRao from the Adler Planetarium, who worked to have astronomy images displayed in various public spaces around the greater Chicago region, including in subway trains, at O’Hare airport, and even in local penitentiaries (he is still awaiting feedback from the Blues Brothers). Examples of other novel outreach approaches abounded, from the collaborative Discover, Explore and Enjoy Physics and Engineering (DEEP) program at Texas A&M University to the hipster gathering that is Nerd Nite.

Once the AAAS meeting began in full, an entire session track dedicated to communication fit alongside scientific themes like Physics and Astronomy. One of the more notable sessions, sponsored by COMPASS, featured a wide range of stakeholders discussing different approaches to incorporate science communication into student training programs, continuing the discussion that was begun at the initial #GradSciComm meeting held last December. Officials from both the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and National Science Foundation outlined actions being taken by the federal government, such as novel funding opportunities and prescriptive programmatic recommendations, while university-based speakers Karen Klomparens (Michigan State University Graduate School) and Rachel Mitchell (University of Washington- ENGAGE) talked about their experiences with science communication training programs at their individual institutions.

A crowd favorite was a session, hosted by the Center for Communicating Science at SUNY-Stonybrook, focusing on the use of improvisation tools to facilitate communication. An overflow crowd of more than 100 attendees swarmed into the session room to take part in various exercises, such as silently working with a partner to carry an invisible sheet of glass around the room (without breaking it!), that demonstrated the critical non-verbal aspects of communication.

For science communicators (at least of a certain age), the unquestioned highlight of the meeting was Alan Alda giving his plenary lecture “Getting Beyond a Blind Date with Science” to a packed room of meeting attendees. Alda spoke of the need for scientists to engage with the general public, describing his (often-times frustrating) interactions with scientists while hosting Scientific American Frontiers, as well as his personal classroom experiences that served as inspiration for the creation of the Flame Challenge.

The theme of public interaction extended beyond the session rooms, with several different public science events taking place that gave meeting attendees a chance to put their communication skills to use through science-based interactions with people from the local community.

Chicago families check out the American Society of Plant Biology booth during Family Science Days at AAAS2014.

Children and parents crowded into Family Science Day to learn about meiosis using poker chips, use a 3D printer to make miniature self-models, and help generate indoor tornadoes. Other public facing communication events included a science café on dark matter, hosted at the Adler Planetarium, and a live filming of StoryCollider, a science podcast/storytelling platform.

As science communication becomes ever more integrated as part of the scientific process, these types of activities and sessions will feature regularly at scientific meetings and conferences. ASBMB will feature its own platter of events at the 2014 Experimental Biology meeting next month, including a science communication workshop and a public science cafe (check out our full lineup under the “Public Policy and Science Outreach” header: http://www.asbmb.org/Meetings_01/2014mtg/2014AnnlMtgProgInfo.aspx). So the next time you go to a meeting, try to see what you can do to communicate your science without using a poster board or PowerPoint presentation. You might be amazed at what is out there.

Tomorrow Never Knows

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It was fifty years ago this week that Beatlemania broke here in America. The confluence of factors that combined to propel the Beatles from unknowns to pop culture icons may seem light years away from having anything to do with science; yet developments within the scientific community show some surprisingly odd parallels.

Alberts MBOC

Image credit: Garland Science

The Beatles were great communicators, using their intrinsic musical talent and skill to make an intense connection with the public. However, even they required some refining in order to go from the repetitive (though undoubtedly catchy) “Love Me Do” to the intricate wonders of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Similarly, most scientists could benefit from refinement of their communication abilities, in order to become maximally effective at communicating with the public. In her column in the February issue of ASBMB Today, Meena Selvakumar talks about how Portal to the Public, a training program founded by the Pacific Science Center, works to prepare scientists to engage with audiences at informal science education institutions. Project staff lead traveling workshops that bring their communications expertise directly to local communities, working to make scientists into well-rounded communication experts.

As The Beatles expanded their songwriting craft, they came up with increasingly creative outlets for broadcasting their music, such as films, concept albums, even playing a concert on a London rooftop. Science outreach activities are becoming just as ingenious. As an example, the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington D.C. is currently showcasing two exhibits that highlight laboratory science in unique ways. The first, described by Sapeck Agrawal in her recent article (also in the February issue of ASBMB Today), is the Q?rius exhibit, which showcases microscopes and their power to illuminate science at the sub-micron level. The exhibit excels in particular at bringing the museum’s specimen collection to life, allowing visitors to pluck up samples and take a deeper look under a microscope.

Image courtesy: National Human Genome Research Institute and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Image courtesy: National Human Genome Research Institute and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Upstairs from the Q?rius exhibit is “Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code”, which opened in 2013 to highlight the anniversary of the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003. In the exhibit, visitors can learn about the pros and cons of genetic testing and investigate details about the human genome. There are even live scientists, draped in standard-issue lab coats, fielding questions from visitors, and theater pieces that dramatize the scientific events that lead to the decoding of the genomre.

So while scientists are likely not vying to be bigger than Jesus, could embracing this musically-inspired approach to science communication possibly help inspire a similar bout of hysteria about science (Sciencemania anyone)? As The Fab Four might have put it had they been scientists: “The knowledge you take is equal to the knowledge you make.”

The Guerilla in the Room

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This month’s issue of ASBMB Today features a column about Guerilla Science, a unique organization that brings science to diverse audiences by mixing STEM topics with art and culture. Back in October, ASBMB helped co-sponsor the collective’s most recent event, the “Enlightenment Party,” a scientifically-themed costume party that brought the 17th century to life for San Francisco residents. Students from the ASBMB Undergraduate Affiliates Network chapter at San Francisco State University, along with faculty advisor Teaster Baird Jr., were front and center as cast members running the Plague game, during which party attendees were surreptitiously infected with “plague” (actually UV ink), before being diagnosed and “cured” by the scientists. Check out pictures from the event here.

SFSU UAN chapter- Enlightenment party

Dr. Baird reflects on his chapter’s participation in the winter edition of the ASBMB UAN newsletter Enzymatic. Click here to read: Enlightenment Party review by Teaster Baird Jr.

Can’t get enough? Here’s a link to even MORE pictures from the event (you can see the ASBMB crew in photos 330-346): http://www.flickr.com/photos/rocketqueen/sets/72157636774349534/

Read the column in ASBMB Today: http://www.asbmb.org/asbmbtoday/201401/EnlightenmentParty/

Announcing the 2014 Outreach Seed Grant Winners!

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Our main goal on the ASBMB Public Outreach Committee is to get ASBMB members involved with public outreach activities. As a first (admittedly big) step in that direction, this month, the first round of awards from our Outreach Seed Grant Program were handed out. Individuals were able to apply for up to $2000 annually for three years to help fund novel or nascent science outreach programs needing modest financial support in order to get up and running.

From a highly competitive pool, 6 winners were selected:

Robert Ekman (Rockville Science Center)

Community Partnerships for Science Outreach through an Expanded Undergraduate Affiliate Network of the ASBMB

Bob EkmanThe Rockville (MD) Science Center, where Ekman serves as President, will partner with student members of the ASBMB Undergraduate Affiliates Network chapter at the Universities at Shady Grove to expand upon an ongoing science café series that targets local high school students. The group will also found a new café series at the local Senior Center to bring science to elderly local residents.

Teresa Evans (University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio)

Teen Meetings Outside the Box (TeenMOB)

Teresa EvansBuilding off an existing mentorship/outreach program developed by Evans, Trainee Meetings Outside the Box (TMOB), TeenMOB will work to develop a young adult science café in the San Antonio community. High school student members of TeenMOB will help organize local events for their classmates, relying on mentorship and advice from graduate student members of TMOB.

Edwin Li (St. Joseph’s University)

Science on the Hill

Edwin Li (new)Li will partner with Wynnefield Overbrook Revitalization Corporation, a community-centered non-profit based in West Philadelphia, to start “Science on the Hill,” a science café series that will expand local outreach efforts beyond those currently focused on downtown Philadelphia.

Ana Maldonado and Kelly Hallstrom (University of Massachusetts Medical School)

Science Café Woo

Kelly Hallstrom and Ana MaldonadoScience Café Woo, a science café program recently started by Maldonado and Hallstrom in Worcester, MA, will expand its outreach programming by hosting a number of public science events in conjunction with local science institutions, along with a science communication contest for local college students.

Lisa Scheifele (Loyola University Maryland)

Development of a Sustainable Synthetic Biology Workshop and Public Lecture at a Community Laboratory

Lisa ScheifeleScheifele will work with Baltimore UnderGround Science Space (BUGSS), a public synthetic biology laboratory, to increase participation by members of the local community in the “Build-a-Gene” workshop that she teaches. BUGSS will also host a public lecture series on both the applications and ethics of synthetic biology to help engage an even wider audience.

Garner Soltes (Princeton University)

Science by the Cup & A Tall Drink of Science: A Science Café Outreach Series in Central NJ and the Regional Northeast

Garner SoltesSoltes will work with the Princeton University Graduate Molecular Biology Outreach Program to start a science café in central New Jersey, gradually expanding throughout the Mid-Atlantic region. Students will serve as organizers, speakers and participants to bring science directly to local community members.

Besides all being strong, creative proposals, these programs also shared a common theme of aiming to deliver science to a particular community audience through a targeted approach. As much as we would like to bring science to everyone everywhere all at once, experience has shown that outreach is best done in a direct, focused manner.

Even more encouraging, proposals were submitted by ASBMB members from all different career stages, ranging from undergraduates to senior faculty. We hope that our awardees serve as inspiration for the greater ASBMB community to similarly get involved with outreach. No matter your level of experience, you too can help spread science in your community!

We are excited to help these programs flourish and watch them grow. Congratulations to all the winners!

For more information about the Outreach Seed Grant program, visit our website www.asbmb.org/publicoutreach.