If you are a Bloomington (or a nearby city) resident, you probably have heard about Science Fest. Science Fest is an annual multi-department science outreach event managed by office of science outreach showcasing IU research rolled up as uber fun activities for kids and adults to enjoy.
As a veteran volunteer who has participated in Science Fest for the past 2 years, I was incredibly excited to volunteer for my 3rd year. For my research in Dr. Heather O’Hagan’s lab, I study ovarian cancer stem cells. These types of cancer cells are not visible to naked eye, so we use flow cytometry, a technique used to analyze properties of a cell like their shape, size, etc, to identify a protein that is more prevalent in these cancer stem cells opposed to normal cancer cells.
Imagine my surprise when I talked to Christiane Hassel, manager of Flow cytometry core facility here at IUB, about Science Fest and learned that she will be participating in an exhibit! I signed up to volunteer with her and in this post, I will tell you about my experience with the flow cytometry group’s exhibit.
For Science Fest, Hassel set up 2 main activities. With the help of biology outreach office, she made a skittle color sorter (adapted from How To Mechatronics) to model how a flow cytometer can use color of a ‘cell’ (in this case, color of the skittle) to differentiate it from a population of various different cell types of potentially different colors.
In the other activity, she had an example of one of the most common cell type sorting methods in biology — immune cell sorting. There are various types of immune cells and in research, if one is working with a certain cell type, it is important to have a pure cell population. So, to illustrate this point, we challenged any willing soul coming through the door to a cell sorting game. A participant had to sort 3 different colors of fuzzy pom-poms (our surrogate for 3 types of immune cells). The challengers raced each other to see who could cell sort the fastest. This helped the participants understand the principle of flow cytometry at a basic level. In addition, Hassel had a portable flow cytometer on display and helped answer further questions about the technique.
This year marked the highest number of visitors that biology had, compared to past years. There were at least 40% first time visitors participating in 17 different exhibits led by faculty, staff, research associates, post-doctoral researchers, graduate-, undergraduate-, and high school-students, and community organizations.
My favorite part was teaching kids a little bit about my research and hopefully increasing their understanding about this revolutionary research too. I loved the smiles and encouraging nods of parents when their children were excited to hear about what I had to say or even the wide-eyed look they had when I told them about our skittle color sorter. Science outreach events like these allow us, scientists to break down science of complex techniques into everyday words so that a 4-year old could understand it too! One incredible example was the use of pom-poms sorting game. Pom-poms sorting was interactive and fun, but it also helped explain the science behind sorting. I was happy to help decode science for the participants and hopefully motivate future generations to pursue a career in science!
If you attended Science Fest here at IUB or somewhere else, my question to you is — which exhibit was your favorite? And most importantly — did you have fun?!
This post is a part of Graduate learning outside research series. In future posts, I will focus on the I can Persist (ICP) program and Graduate Women in STEM (GWiSTEM) Teaching fellow initiatives.