Andrew G. Campbell, Ph.D., a professor of medical science at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and previous dean of the graduate school, is passionate about researching understudied diseases and helping students reach their full potential.
Dr. Campbell’s lab has studied the single-cell organismTrypanosoma brucei (T. brucei), a parasite transmitted through the bite of the tsetse fly, which is only found in specific regions of Africa. In humans, T. brucei causes African Trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness. Symptoms of this illness include headache, weakness, tiredness, and altered sleep schedules; and if left untreated, it can be fatal. Dr. Campbell studies the function of certain enzymes found in T. brucei and other infectious agents, like hepatitis B virus and HIV, with the hope that they can serve as targets for new treatments for diseases.
Two NIGMS-funded programs are teaming up to shape the future of science and technology in West Virginia (WV). One engages high school students in science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine (STEM+M); introduces them to research; and provides direct access to college through tuition waivers. In the other program, undergraduate students are paired with a researcher at their institution for a paid internship—an important step toward a career in science.
Those pesky little bugs flying around the overripe bananas in your kitchen may hold the key to understanding something new about how our bodies work. That’s right, the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) is a widely used research organism in genetics because of its superpower of reproducing quickly with similar genes to people.
Researchers have been studying fruit flies for over a century for many reasons. First, they’re easy to please—just keep them at room temperature and feed them corn meal, sugar, and yeast (or those bananas on your counter!). Second, they reproduce more quickly and have shorter life cycles than larger organisms. A female can lay up to a hundred eggs in a day, and those eggs develop into mature adult flies within 10 to 12 days. A third reason is the simplicity of the fruit fly’s genome, which only has four pairs of chromosomes compared to the 23 in humans. And on a logistical note, the male and female flies are easy to tell apart (genetic studies often require separating males and females, which isn’t an easy feat in all organisms).
“Many of the students we work with don’t have access to a laboratory through their local schools. For them, CityLab is their first exposure to a laboratory environment—these are hugely important moments for these kids,” says Carl Franzblau, Ph.D., the founder of CityLab at Boston University (BU). CityLab was established more than 30 years ago as a science education outreach program for precollege students and teachers through a partnership between the Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine and the Wheelock College of Education & Human Development at BU.
“Since our first Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) grant in 1991, our mission has been to inspire students to consider careers in the biomedical sciences and broaden the opportunities that are available to them,” says Carla Romney, D.Sc., the director of research for CityLab. Continuous SEPA funding since 1991 has allowed CityLab to fulfill its mission and provide students with state-of-the-art biotechnology laboratory facilities and curricula.
The NIGMS Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program provides opportunities for pre-K-12 students from underserved communities to access STEM educational resources. SEPA grants support innovative, research-based, science education programs, furthering NIGMS’ mission to ensure a strong and diverse biomedical research workforce. SEPA projects generate resources that are mapped to state and national teaching standards for STEM and are rigorously evaluated for effectiveness; most are also available at no cost. These resources include mobile laboratories, interactive health exhibits in museums and science centers, educational resources for students, and professional development for teachers. Projects engage students and encourage them to envision themselves having careers in biomedical research.
To celebrate National STEM Day, we’re taking a look back at some of the SEPA projects we’ve recently featured on the blog, as well as our STEM teaching resources website, which includes several SEPA-funded materials. Check out the snapshots of each of the projects with links to the full articles and the teaching website below.
“Water bear” or “moss piglet”? No matter what you call them, tardigrades have secured the title of cutest invertebrate—at least in our book. They’re tiny creatures, averaging about the size of a grain of salt, so while you can spot them with the naked eye, using a microscope is the best way to see them. They earned their nickname of water bear and their official name (which comes from tardigradus, Latin for “slow walker”) because of the way they lumber slowly and deliberately on short, stubby legs.
We’re excited to announce our new partnership with Kahoot! Although we aren’t new Kahoot! gamers, we’ve recently partnered with them to provide you quizzes from across the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in a single place. “Reaching young people to teach them about biomedical science and inspire them to pursue careers in science is critically important to ensuring a diverse and vibrant biomedical research enterprise,” says NIGMS Director Jon Lorsch, Ph.D. “Our partnership with Kahoot! expands NIH’s STEM offerings, providing educators with free, interactive learning tools to spark student interest in health sciences.”
“Our main goal is to get elementary students excited to learn about STEM, and for them to see how beautiful and relevant science can be to communities in eastern Montana,” says Amanda Obery, Ph.D., an assistant professor in elementary education at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. Dr. Obery co-leads the Authentic Community Engagement in Science (ACES) project with Matt Queen, Ph.D., an assistant professor in biological and physical sciences at Montana State University Billings (MSUB).
Students with blindness and low vision are often excluded from chemistry labs and offered few accessible representations of the subject’s imagery, which can significantly hinder their ability to learn about and participate in chemistry. Bryan Shaw, Ph.D., a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, hopes to change that through a program funded by an NIGMS Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA). His inspiration to start the program came from his son, who is visually impaired due to childhood eye cancer, and his son’s friends who have also experienced partial or complete vision loss.
Anyone who’s spent time in an academic science lab has probably heard about lab culture. Many labs boast long, rigorous working hours, while others require graduate students and postdoctoral trainees (postdocs) to meet often-unattainable experiment quotas each week. But is sheer quantity really the gold standard we want to hold ourselves to when it comes to training the next generation of scientists?
Neil Garg, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and chair of the department of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and Jen Heemstra, Ph.D., Charles Allen Thomas Professor and chair of the department of chemistry at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, think not. In fact, they both felt so strongly that this mindset of training is so outdated and detrimental to academic excellence and integrity that they joined together to create #MentorFirst, an initiative encouraging academics to embrace mentorship in conjunction with research. “As faculty, both research and mentorship are important,” says Dr. Heemstra. “But it makes a huge difference which one we put first.”