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Science

After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Maker Faire Long Island returned to Port Jefferson village on Saturday, June 11, at the Village Center.

Maker Faire LI is an annual festival held by the Long Island Explorium, a science and engineering museum based in Port Jeff. Its purpose is to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education by way of innovations and crafts of people throughout the region and country. 

Angeline Judex, executive director of the Explorium, discussed the surprising success of the event after its two-year pause. “We’re really happy with this event,” she said. “It has turned out really well — much better than we actually expected.”

Proceeds from the event will support the Explorium’s various educational programs. The goal of these programs is to enliven STEM through activities that are engaging and fun. Judex said the Explorium hopes to inspire young people and nourish a lifelong pursuit of STEM. 

“It’s really important for children to be inspired and excited about STEM at an early age,” Judex said, adding, “We focus on enriching and inspiring children from K-6 so that they get excited about STEM because this is the future.” She added, “We want to support the next generation of leaders and scientists who are going to be inspired to solve some of the challenges in the environments we live in.”

Hundreds of makers gathered at Harborfront Park to showcase their own unique contributions to the field. Sejal Mehra, one of the presenters at the festival, displayed what she has coined “engineering art.” Her works integrate aspects of collage, engineering and sustainability studies under a common discipline.

“I create ‘engineering art,’ which is made from recycling old computer and electronic parts or plastic that would have otherwise ended up in the trash to show the beauty of STEM,” she said. “I’m on a mission to change the face of STEM through art.”

Makers such as Mehra offer the necessary guidance for young people to pursue STEM. Through their example of creativity and ingenuity, young people are challenged to change the world themselves.  

“I think it’s really important to have programs like this one to help inspire young minds into a lifelong pursuit of STEM because you never know when or how something is going to spark their love for STEM,” Mehra said. “It is also great for young minds to be inspired by young adults like myself because we were just in their shoes and can help motivate them to pursue STEM. Without programs like this, the amount of exposure to the field and its vast possibilities and intersections would not be possible.”

Mehra’s artwork is currently for sale and can be purchased through her website or by contacting her via email or Instagram.

Joining Judex was a group of public officials who offered their support for the museum in its mission to educate the next generation of scientists and engineers. New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), a geologist by profession, spoke of the importance of Maker Faire in encouraging young minds to tackle the impending challenges of environmental degradation.

“The purpose of bringing us all together is to enhance this community, to imagine possibilities for all of the people who live here and visit here, and to use our imagination just a little bit,” he said. “One of the things that’s very important is the narrative and theme that are interwoven around protecting the environment. We’re situated here in beautiful Port Jefferson on the edge of the harbor, and it is a beautiful place to remember the importance of sustainability.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) was also present for the event. She thanked the Explorium for providing these services and enriching the community.

“I am pleased to be here to support Maker Faire Long Island once again, to support the Explorium, and encourage children and our residents to explore, to innovate, to use their imagination and encourage ingenuity,” she said. “Thank you for all you do to encourage that in children right here in our own backyard.”

Brookhaven Town Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) recognized Judex for the work she put into making this annual tradition successful once again and for championing STEM and motivating young people.

“I want to thank you not only for the work you did to bring this event together, but for the work you do all year long to create a fun place for kids to do science, to teach kids, to make it accessible to everybody, to bring science to places where maybe it isn’t, and to find new places to suddenly discover science,” the councilmember said.

Kathianne Snaden, Village of Port Jefferson deputy mayor, thanked the many entities that helped make this event possible once again.

“To all of the volunteers, to all of the makers, to the attendees, to our code department, our parks department and our highway department, without all of you coming together to make an event like this happen, we just couldn’t do it,” she said. “To the Explorium for providing cutting-edge technology, programming and hands-on learning for our children, it is just unmatched in this area.”

Village trustee Rebecca Kassay and her husband volunteered as traffic guards during the event. She called it “a pleasure directing parking.”

“As my husband and I stand and direct parking, we look at the children leaving this event and I asked them, ‘What have you made today?’” the trustee said. “Their faces light up and they show me something they’ve made, whether it’s a magnet, whether it’s a whirligig, whether it’s lip balm.” She continued, “It is so important to empower these young people with the gift of demystifying what is in the world around them.”

Englebright concluded the remarks with an anecdote. When the assemblyman was just 14 years old, his science teacher at the time recommended he attend a junior curator program at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. His decision to heed that advice would reshape the course of his life.

“I became a junior curator and it changed my life,” he said. “The Explorium, this children’s museum, I believe is going to change an awful lot of young people’s lives. Now here I am — with white hair — some years later, and I can tell you of the importance of your programs and the worthiness of everything that you do.”

At the March 3 Town Board meeting, Councilwoman Jane Bonner recognized a group of Rocky Point High School Technology students who created a prosthetic hand for Anun Suastika, a six-year-old Indonesian boy who was born with no fingers on his right hand. Anan’s father made a plea on a website called E-name for someone to help make a prosthetic hand for his boy. 

Mr. Schumacher, passionate about teaching students the technology skills that they can use in many career fields, happened upon e-NABLE, an organization with volunteer members who use open-source technology and 3-D printers to provide free prosthetic hands for children and adults. He thought it would be a great way to blend technology and humanity into a project for his students and guided them as they built the prosthetic hand using the school’s 3-D printer. 

The students worked during free periods and after school to design and assemble the 3-D parts into a Phoenix V-3 prosthetic hand. As traditional prosthetics normally cost thousands of dollars and need to be replaced as children grow, the production of a printed Phoenix V-3 prosthetic hand is much more inexpensive because of its design: It simply relies on a person’s functional wrist and uses the palm to push against the device so the fingers close when the wrist is bent.

“It is not every day that high school students can make such a big impact on a person’s life, but these students did just that. I thank Mr. Schumacher and his Technology class for taking on the challenge to improve Anun’s quality of life,” said Councilwoman Jane Bonner. 

“We are grateful to Mr. Schumacher and these students for this project that will have a profound effect on a boy’s life,” Rocky Point School District Superintendent of Schools Dr. Scott O’Brien said. “The enthusiasm and passion shown by this committed group is inspiring to others in our school district, learning that in our classrooms they too can make a difference in the global community.

Pixabay photo

By Elof Axel Carlson

Elof Axel Carlson

Scientists study nature. Nature is the world we can observe. It includes things like life, from viruses to plants and animals, and to all forms of  humanity.  It includes the earth and its continents, oceans, and atmosphere.  It includes the moon, the planets and stars and galaxies. It includes the composition of all the objects we can see, touch, taste, smell, or hear.

What does it not include? Scientists call that aspect of our experience the supernatural. What is the supernatural?  It includes a belief in gods, souls, ghosts, spirits, devils, angels, saints, witches, goblins, trolls, leprechauns, and mythical beasts like unicorns, or snakes that speak intelligible language we can understand, or a host of imagined possibilities such as a fountain of youth, turning other metals into gold, devising perpetual motion machines, pills that can convert water into gasoline, or using the ground powder of rhinoceros horns to cure impotence in middle aged men. 

It also includes pseudo-sciences such as astrology, alchemy, palmistry, mind-reading, telekinesis, and other forms of extrasensory perception. The list is long, and scientists would strike off some of the supernatural if carefully controlled experiments are done to demonstrate them. Unfortunately, that has not occurred. 

Magicians are often allied with scientists in exposing the tricks other magicians and charlatans use to fool inexperienced or gullible people. Science has more mysteries to solve and does not need supernatural unproven claims to compete for an interpretation of the universe. Science uses reason, gathering of information or data, proposals of theories, testing of theories, instruments to amplify or supplement our senses, and experimentation to test predictions of theories. 

The supernatural depends on faith. It raises some difficulties. Whose gods are valid and whose have been demoted to myths? Is Zeus still alive? Is Osiris still alive? Is Gilgamesh still alive? Of our current deities, is Jesus an aspect of a Trinitarian deity or is he a human prophet who founded a new religion? If the Old Testament deity called Jehovah, Lord, or God is monotheistic, and if He is also the God of the Hebrew people of the Old Testament, is He the same God that Christians pray to and call Jesus?  

As these questions and concerns sink in, note that scientists exclude the numerous ways supernatural beings (represented in human or other forms of life) are accepted.  The supernatural events and things are accepted through faith. Science is universal and demands testable and repeatable evidence. It does not matter what country one lives in; water will consist of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. It will behave the same wherever it is studied and exists as a gas, liquid, or solid, depending on temperature and pressure. 

Science is very strict about the evidence needed for demonstrating something to science. Those who practice supernatural beliefs do so out of faith. There is no one universal supernatural system all people would agree to. But all people on earth will be convinced that striking a match to dry paper at room temperature, in breathable air, will ignite the paper and reduce it to ashes and release carbon dioxide into the air.

Elof Axel Carlson is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University.

Image from BNL

Every year, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory opens its gates to thousands of community members for open house events called Summer Sundays. Visitors get to meet the Lab’s scientists and tour a different world-class science facility each week, including the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II), and the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN)—all DOE Office of Science User Facilities.

Following the success of Brookhaven’s virtual Summer Sundays program in 2020 and to continue limiting the spread of COVID-19, the Lab is bringing back its online Summer Sunday program for 2021. Over three Sundays this summer, Brookhaven will host a series of live, virtual events for people of all ages. Each event will feature a guided tour of a Brookhaven Lab facility and live Q&A sessions with a panel of scientists.

Brookhaven Lab plans to return to an in-person public tour format for Summer Sundays 2022, as conditions permit.

 

 

Schedule of events

NSLS-II: Sunday, July 25 at 3:30 p.m. ET

Tune in to get an up-close look at some of the “beamlines” where scientists use ultrabright x-ray light to see the atomic structure of batteries, proteins, and more. Viewers will have the opportunity to pose questions to NSLS-II scientists about each beamline on the tour and all of the research conducted at NSLS-II. Watch on TwitterFacebook, or YouTube.

RHIC: Sunday, August 1 at 3:30 p.m. ET

Join Brookhaven scientists as they explore the physics of particle colliders, including RHIC and the upcoming Electron-Ion Collider (EIC). Get a behind-the-scenes look at RHIC’s operations, then scientists for a Q&A session where they’ll take viewers’ questions about RHIC and the EIC. Watch on TwitterFacebook, or YouTube.

CFN: Sunday, August 8 at 3:30 p.m. ET

Investigate our world at the nanoscale with CFN, where scientists will show viewers the sophisticated microscopes and research tools they use to observe ultrasmall science. Viewers will have the opportunity to pose questions to CFN scientists about each scientific instrument on the tour and all of the research conducted at CFN. Watch on TwitterFacebook, or YouTube.

More details about these events will be announced soon. For the most up-to-date information, follow Brookhaven Lab on Facebook or visit the Summer Sundays website.

How to watch and ask questions

Each of the Lab’s live Summer Sundays events will be streamed to TwitterFacebook, and YouTube. At the time of the event, the live stream will be pinned to the top of Brookhaven’s profile on each platform. You do not need to have a Twitter, Facebook, or Google account to watch the stream.

Viewers are encouraged to submit their questions for the Q&A segment in advance through the Lab’s social media accounts or by sending an email to [email protected]. Live questions will also be accepted during the Q&A through the chat functions on all streaming platforms mentioned above.

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://energy.gov/science.

Follow @BrookhavenLab on Twitter or find us on Facebook.

Photo courtesy of CSHL

By Daniel Dunaief

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s DNA Learning Center and the Red Cloud Indian School recently launched a program called Students Talk Science in which high school students could ask questions from several senior scientists about the vaccine for COVID-19 and healthcare disparities in minority communities.

Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Stable

 

The talks are a component of a program called STARS, for Science, Technology & Research Scholars, an effort the group started in 2019 to build interest and experience in STEM for minority students. The Students Talk Science program engaged the STARS participants and students from the Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Jason Williams, Assistant Director of Inclusion and Research Readiness at the DNA Learning at CSHL; Brittany Johnson, an educator at the DNA Learning Center; Katie Montez, a teacher at the Red Cloud Indian School ;and Carol Carter, Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, wanted to connect minority students with practicing physicians and scientists in leadership positions at the National Institutes of Health to allow them to ask questions of concern regarding the vaccines.

Dr. Monica Webb-Hooper

“We did this to empower them to function as trusted resources for their families, friends and network,” Carter, who participated as an individual rather than as a formal representative of Stony Brook University, explained in an email.

The conversations included interactions with Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Stable, Director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, or NIMHD at the National Institutes of Health; Dr. Monica Webb Hooper, Deputy Director of the NIMHD; Dr. Gary Gibbons, Director of the National Heat, Lung and Blood Institute; and Dr. Eugenia South, Assistant Professor in Emergency Medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Presbyterian Medical Center of Philadelphia.

The high school students prepared informed questions.

Dr. Gary Gibbons

“The students were encouraged to do their own research” on the interview subjects, Williams explained. “We asked students not to look just at [each] interviewee’s science work, but also any personal background/ biography they could find. Students had multiple opportunities for follow up and were largely independent on their choices of questions.”

Samantha Gonzalez, a student at Walter G. O’Connell Copiague High School, asked South about her initial skepticism for the vaccine.

South acknowledged that she had no interest in taking the vaccine when she first learned she was eligible. “I almost surprised myself with the fierceness with which I said, ‘No,’” South said. “I had to step back and say, ‘Why did I have this reaction?’”

Some of the reasons had to do with mistrust, which includes her own experiences and the experiences of her patients, whom she said have had to confront racism in health care. In addition, she was unsure of the speed at which the vaccine was developed. She had never heard of the mRNA technology that made the vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/ BioNTech possible.

“I had to do my own research to understand that this wasn’t a new technology,” she said.

Dr. Eugenia South

South went through a learning process, in which she read information and talked to experts. After she received answers to her questions and with the urging of her mother, she decided to get the vaccine.

“I’m so thankful that I was able to do that,” South said.

The team behind Students Talk Science not only wanted to empower students to make informed decisions, but also wanted to give them the opportunity to interact with scientists who might serve as personal and professional role models, providing a pathway of information and access that developed amid an extraordinary period.

“We wanted to engage high school students in something unique going on in their lifetime,” Carter said.

To be sure, Carter and Williams said the scientific interactions weren’t designed to convince students to take the vaccine or to urge their parents or families to get a shot. Rather, they wanted to provide an opportunity for students to ask questions and gather information.

“We purposely did not participate in the discussions because our goal was not to convince or ‘preach,’ but to enable students and their networks to make informed decisions,” Carter said.

Parents had to read and sign off on the process for students to participate. The organizers didn’t want a situation where they were doing something that conflicts with a parents’ decisions or views.

Williams added that the purpose of the conversations was never to say, “you must get the vaccine. Our purpose is to talk about information.”

The objective of these interactions is to help minority students find a track for a productive career in ten years.

In addition to questions about hesitancy, Williams said some of the high school students expressed concerns about access to vaccines. He is pleased with the result of this effort to connect students with scientists and doctors.

The group was “able to get some of the most important scientists in the country to sit with high school students,” he said. “It was very powerful to give students access to these role models.”

The goal is to stay with these students, mentor them and stay in touch with them until they graduate from college and, perhaps, return as research scientists.

Even for students who do not return, this type of interaction could provide an “impactful experience that prepares them for other opportunities,” Williams explained, adding that the STARS program would incorporate the Students Talk Science Series into the program more formally in the future, with new students and topics most likely during the school year.

The interviews are available at the following website: https://dnalc.cshl.edu/resources/students-talk-science/.

From left, Environmental Director David Barnes, Supervisor Ed Wehrheim, Smithtown artist Susan Buroker, Smithtown CSD Art Teacher Timothy Needles talk with students about stormwater runoff. Photo from Town of Smithtown

The Town of Smithtown, in partnership with the Smithtown Central School District, has begun a unique partnership in time for the 2021-2022 school year. Town officials will begin to coordinate hands-on experiential learning opportunities with school science teachers, which focus on real world environmental issues affecting the community. The new programming will focus on the branches of science and how to apply the curriculum to real world issues such as solid waste, invasive species, and water quality.

“We’re absolutely thrilled at the prospect of getting our youth more engaged in critical environmental issues, like protecting the watershed, and Long Island’s impending waste crisis. I can remember back to my school days, always asking ‘When am I ever going to use this in the real world?’ This programming takes studies from the chalk board to the real world, so kids witness the benefits of their hard work unfold before their eyes… I’m especially grateful for the School Districts partnership in what will undoubtedly be a phenomenal learning experience for our youth,” said Supervisor Ed Wehrheim.

Over the Summer, town department experts at Environment and Waterways, and Municipal Services Facility will begin coordinating with school district science teachers to help perfect the programming. Real world topics include the impending solid waste crisis, shellfish and water quality, invasive species census and stormwater runoff. Each class will hear expert presentations from Smithtown’s environmental authorities, in addition to participating in eco-adventure field trips. Students will then learn how to apply STEM related solutions to real world issues.

While still in the planning phase, the new partnership program is slated to launch in the fall.

Photo from Pixabay
Elof Axel Carlson

By Elof Axel Carlson

When I’ve gone to a performance of La Bohême or Les Misérables I see a common theme that is not only European but may be universal. The young express their disappointment of the world in which they are raised and seek change by revolution and protest. The old see the world as manageable, despite its failings, and feel threatened by the discontents of youths who will destroy a way life as they know it. For the young, the privilege, bigotry, inequality, and neglect are considered wrongs that need correcting. For the old, the new brings to mind authoritarian rule by mobs and dictators. Where does science fit into that conflict?

Scientists like to claim a neutrality in what they do as scientists. For those in basic science they are not motivated by political and private usage of their findings. Their quest is adding new knowledge of our perception of the universe.  How it is used is the job of everyone. 

We do not blame a scientist who invents a pocket watch if that watch is used in a bomb to assassinate a nation’s leader. But applied science is different. If a scientist is hired to design an intercontinental missile to deliver a hydrogen bomb that will decimate a city thousands of miles away, that scientist is very much aware of the potential use of that weapon in war and rationalizes that he or she is just making a deterrent necessary for peace. 

It becomes harder to make such a rationalization if the scientist is hired to design a gas chamber designed as a public shower to kill 20 people at a time with cyanide gas pouring into that sealed chamber. It then becomes a war crime if the side using those gas chambers loses the war. The only plausible defense for the scientist is to claim he or she was forced under possible threat of death to design the chamber.    

Science provides the tools  and  findings of basic science and applies them to society. Both protestors and those protecting private property as police or militia may use the same shields and weapons in their confrontations. What distinguishes them in their acts are the values they accept. 

In general, the young are more likely to be among the protesters, the adults who have learned to live the contradictions of society will tend to be older and supported most vigorously by the older members of society who accept their privileges without a sense of guilt. 

I am a liberal (in the sense of the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt and the Democratic Party through most of the 20th and 21st century). I do not consider those provisions of the government as identical to totalitarian socialist states and more than Republicans consider their support of capitalist inequality as identical to such right wing totalitarian governments under Mussolini, Peron, Franco, Trujillo, or other anti-socialist and anti-Communist outlooks.  

Not all concern over science is based on politics. There are disagreements among scientists on issues such as the contributions of natural and synthetic gases to world climate changes or the rising levels of ocean water.  There is disagreement on the exposure or individuals of populations from low doses of ionizing radiation. There is disagreement on the carrying capacity of land for increases in the human population (each person needs food, shelter, health, and work to sustain a family). 

Unfortunately, science literacy is not good for most of the world’s population and politics rather than scientific evidence is more likely to dominate the debates on these issues which are highly dependent on how science is used or abused. 

Elof Axel Carlson is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University.

METRO photo

By Elof Axel Carlson

Elof Axel Carlson

Science is a way of enlarging our knowledge about the  universe. It is not the only way to do so.  We can experience the universe through our travels, our observation of the changing seasons, our feelings of awe at a glorious sunset, or the joy of seeing a rainbow form after a passing rain shower. 

We can also experience a feeling that many call spiritual, through meditation, prayers, or reverential feelings. All societies experience these different ways of encountering the diversity of the universe and how to classify the world we experience around us. What sets science apart is its use of reason and tools to explore the universe.

Experimental science was formalized during the renaissance especially in Italy where Galileo and his students did experiments to work out the first laws of physics using inclined planes and quantitative relations to show a mathematical measure of speed and acceleration. Galileo also added the use of the telescope to explore the heavenly bodies and showed Venus had phases like the moon, the moon had craters and mountain ranges, Jupiter had 4 moons whose orbits he and his students worked out, and the sun had sunspots whose migrations allowed him to show the sun rotates on an axis.

That is not knowledge one gets from revelation or looking for bible codes in the Old Testament verses. It led to a dualism with Descartes and other philosophers seeing the universe as containing two realms – the material universe accessible to science through reason and experimentation and the spiritual or supernatural world that was accessible by revelation and scriptural interpretations of theologians. The Renaissance was also contentious, and Protestants and Catholics fought over who should interpret the Bible.

The relation between the world interpreted by science and the world interpreted by the supernatural has been an uneasy one ever since the Renaissance. Many people have no problem balancing the two ways to experience their lives. Other feel uncomfortable with the supernatural or uncomfortable with the scientific outlook expressed as atheism agnosticism, humanism, or scientism.

I am a scientist, and in that role I avoid explanations invoking the supernatural. I describe what is accessible through observation, experimentation, and the tools of science to investigate what is complex and render it interpretable through my studies. But I am also a human being who enjoys listening to music, going to museums to see great artworks and reading wonderful books of fiction and human imagination.

Science enlarged the universe I can live in and made possible the long life I have lived.  Some people, however, have a more ambivalent relation to science. They see it as destructive to their spiritual beliefs. They see it as destroyer of their children’s faith. They see it as sterile of emotions and human feelings. They see it as a rival that deprives them of the total freedom of the will to do what they want when they want. 

We see this in the  responses to the  advice offered by the nation’s epidemiologists and microbiologists who have studied infectious disease. Germs have no ideology. They have hosts. Those hosts can include you or me.

My response to a contagious disease is to follow what science recommends. I get a flu shot each year. I was immunized in my youth against smallpox, polio, and whooping cough. I had the measles and got an autoimmunity from that as was the case for mumps during the Depression years I grew up.

I am puzzled that adults can take offense at being told to  wear a facial mask to prevent spraying their germs in the streets and rooms they occupy as well as serving as a protection from those germs exhaled from our mouths and noses.

I am puzzled that people belittle scientists who measure the oceans’ temperatures and the study of the melting of glaciers around the polar regions and who keep careful records showing increases of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a rising temperature of the atmosphere and a rising sea level and more numerous and severe climate changes around the world. The evidence is overwhelming that it is caused by a fossil fuel carbon-based civilization and that it needs regulation through international treaties.

But those who ignore or reject science do not offer an alternative to changing our habits of how we live. What is it besides “wishful thinking” or denial that they offer in response? I am not advocating that science always has good outcomes. Science, like all human activity, has to be monitored, assessed and regulated. Pollution of the land, air and waters that are essential  for our lives needs regulation. Science often lends its help to the construction of weapons of mass destruction which is just rationalized murder of the innocent who are embedded in the guilty we designate as the enemy.

In a democracy it is our obligation to debate the uses and abuses of science as well as the uses and abuses of cultural beliefs and political ideologies. It is false to believe that society and nature are always self-correcting without human involvement in how we respond to the  threats often of our own making.

Elof Axel Carlson is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University.

DNALC Assistant Director Amanda McBrien teaches a live session. Photo by Chun-hua Yang, DNALC

By Daniel Dunaief

Two letters defined the DNA Learning Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory over the last several months: re, as in rethink, reimagine, reinvent, recreate, and redevelop. They also start the word reagent, which are chemicals involved in experiments.

The 32-year-old Learning Center, which teaches students from fifth grade through undergraduates, as well as teachers from elementary school to college faculty, shared lessons and information from a distance.

At the Learning Center, students typically benefit from equipment they may not have in their schools. That has also extended to summer camps. “Our camps are built on this experiential learning,” said Amanda McBrien, an Assistant Director at the Learning Center.

DNALC Educator Dr. Cristina Fernandez-Marco, teaches a Genome Science Virtual Class. Photo by Sue Lauter, DNALC

While that part of the teaching experience is missing, the center adapted to the remote model, shifting to a video based lessons and demonstrations. Indeed, campers this year could choose between a live-streamed and an on-demand versions.

Dave Micklos, the founder of the Learning Center, was pleased with his staff’s all-out response to the crisis.

“The volume of new videos that we posted on YouTube was more than any other science center or natural history museum that we looked up,” Micklos said. “It takes a lot of effort to post content if you’re doing it in a rigorous way.” During the first few months of the lockdown, the Learning Center was posting about three or four new videos each day, with most of them produced from staff members’ homes.

As for the camps, the Learning Center sent reagents, which are safe and easy to use, to the homes of students, who performed labs alongside instructors. In some camps, students isolated DNA from their own cells, plant or animal cells and returned the genetic samples to the lab. They can watch the processing use the DNA data for explorations of biodiversity, ancestry and detecting genetically modified organisms.

The Learning Center has been running six different labs this summer.

The virtual camps allowed the Learning Center to find a “silver lining from a bad situation” in which students couldn’t come to the site, McBrien said. The Learning Center developed hands-on programs that they sent throughout the country.

McBrien said the instructors watched each other’s live videos, often providing support and positive feedback. Some people even watched from much greater distances. “We had a few regulars who were hysterical,” McBrien said. “One guy from Germany, his name is Frank, he was in all the chats. He loved everything we did” and encouraged the teachers to add more scientific lessons for adults.

McBrien praised the team who helped “redevelop a few protocols” so high-level camps could enable students to interact with instructors from home.

A DNA Barcoding Virtual Camp featuring DNA Learning Center Educator Dr. Sharon Pepenella, with her virtual class. Over Pepenella’s shoulder is a picture of Nobel Prize winners Francis Crick and James Watson. Photo by Sue Lauter, DNALC.

Using the right camera angles and the equipment at the lab, the instructors could demonstrate techniques and explain concepts in the same way they would in a live classroom setting. To keep the interest of the campers, instructors added polls, quizzes and contests. Some classes included leader boards, in which students could see who answered the most questions correctly.

This summer, Micklos and Bruce Nash, who is an Assistant Director at the Learning Center, are running a citizen science project, in which teams from around the country are trying to identify ants genetically throughout the United States.

Using a small kit, one reagent and no additional equipment, contributing members of the public, whom the Learning Center dubs “Citizen Scientists,” are isolating DNA from about 500 of the 800 to 900 species of ants.

In one of the higher level classes called metabarcoding or environmental DNA research, teachers collected microbes in a sample swabbed from their nose, their knees, tap water, and water collected from lakes.

The Learning Center supports this effort for high school research through Barcode Long Island, which is a partnership with the Hudson River Park to study fish in the Hudson. High school interns and the public help with sampling and molecular biology.

“Much like barcoding, we aim to democratize metabarcoding,” Nash explained in an email. A metabarcoding workshop that ended recently had participants in Nigeria, Canada, Antigua and distant parts of the United States, with applicants from Asia.

After teaching college faculty on bar coding, Micklos surveyed the teachers to gauge their preference for future courses, assuming in-person meetings will be possible before too long.

When asked if they would like in-person instruction only, a hybrid model, or classes that are exclusively virtual, none of the teachers preferred to have the course exclusively in person. “People are beginning to realize it is more time efficient to do things virtually,” Micklos said.

Nash added that the preference for remote learning predated the pandemic.

Micklos appreciates the Learning Center’s educational contribution. “To pull these things off with basically people talking to each other via computer, to me, is pretty amazing,” he said.

Around four out of 10 students who enter college who have an interest in pursuing careers in science continue on their scientific path. That number, however, increases to six out of 10, when the students have a compelling lab class during their freshman year, Micklos said.

Lab efforts such as at the Learning Center may help steady those numbers, particularly during the disruption caused by the pandemic.

The longer-term goal at the Learning Center, Micklos said, is to democratize molecular biology with educational programs that can be done in the Congo, the Amazon or in other areas.

As for the fall, the leadership at the center plans to remain nimble.

The Learning Center is planning Virtual Lab field trips and will also continue to offer “Endless Summer” camp programs for kids and parents looking for science enrichment.

The Center also hopes to send instructors for in-person demonstrations at schools, where they can host small groups of student on site.

“We are supporting as many people as possible through our grant-funded programs and our (virtual) versions of camps and field trips,” Nash said. “These will be adapted to support schools and others to progressively improve them through the fall, with the hope of reaching all those we would normally reach.”

Kahille Dorsinvil. Photo courtesy of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

The show must go on, even in science.

After 70 years of bringing residents into their high tech facility to see some of the cutting-edge technology for themselves and to interact with the scientists from around the world who ask questions about the nature of matter, the universe, energy, weather and myriad other questions, Brookhaven National Laboratory plans to continue the tradition of Summer Sundays, albeit virtually.

Starting this Sunday, Aug. 16, with a virtual explanation video and question and answer session with several scientists, the Department of Energy laboratory will welcome those curious about their labs back, albeit virtually. The first session will begin with a video about the National Synchrotron Lightsource II, a facility that cost close to $1 billion to construct and that has numerous beamlines that enable researchers to see everything from the molecules of a battery in action to cutting edge interactions in biochemistry.

This week’s session, which will run from 3:30 to 5 p.m. will be available on BNL’s YouTube channel. Participants who would like to ask questions during the session can submit them in writing through the lab’s social media accounts or by sending an email to [email protected] A moderator will direct questions to a panel. The other programs are on August 23rd for the Center for Functional Nanomaterials and August 30th for the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider.

“Summer Sundays are a large public event and clearly that’s not something anyone is doing right now,” said Kahille Dorsinvil, Principal Stakeholder Relations Specialist and Summer Sundays Coordinator at BNL, who has been working at BNL for 14 years. “People probably thought they’d see us in 2021, [but] we’re still doing science and we’re still trying to share what we’re doing.”

The virtual event has the advantage of allowing the lab to serve as a host for a much larger group of people, who aren’t limited by seats or by social distancing rules. “We tried to make it so there was no limit to who could watch or participate with us online,” explained Dorsinvil.

Participants will watch a short video tour and will then have an opportunity to interact with panelists. The videos will include footage shot from numerous angles.

The participants during a typical in-person Summer Sundays event range across the age spectrum, as BNL promotes the effort as a family event.

Summer Sundays appeal to residents who have already attended similar events in prior years. Indeed, when the lab asks visitors if this is their first time, about half have been to the site before. “Some are our best friends come every year,” Dorsinvil said.

Dorsinvil grew up on Long Island, visiting the lab when she was in ninth grade at Newfield High School in Selden. Through the program, and apprenticeship program, which currently exists as STEM prep for rising tenth graders, she focused on a different science topic each week, including basic chemistry and the environment.

Dorsinvil was already interested in science, but visiting BNL “made a difference in how I continued” in the field, she said.