Nobel Prizes: the fairy tale of science?

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 cred: Akademie / Alamy

As a graduate student in neuroscience, I’ve sat through my fair share of science lectures. Aside from distracted students and enzyme cascades, a common recurring theme are Nobel Laureates. Time and time again we would be presented with a key concept and the experiments that led to its discovery, followed by a slide showing two or three smiling older men and a Nobel medal. That medal is included on PowerPoint slides to validate the lesson for the day and to give students something to aspire to. Seems pretty perfect, right? A lone genius would devise a theory, test it, walk away with a Nobel, and live happily ever after.

The problem is that this narrative fails dramatically at illustrating the way science is actually conducted. It doesn’t promote the critical thinking necessary for future scientists, and it alienates students that don’t see themselves represented in the pantheon of Nobel Laureates.

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“Improv for Scientists” Workshop Recap

Last week SPEaC held the second installment in our series of workshops: “Improvisation for Scientists”. This workshop series aims to help graduate students and postdocs improve their communication skills through fun and interactive improv-style games and activities. The focus of this workshop was to help our trainees recognize and eliminate complex scientific jargon and instead communicate in relatable stories and analogies. Continue reading

Improve your elevator pitch with improvisation

Last month SPEaC held the first of our new quarterly series of workshops: “Improvisation for Scientists.” The goal of the workshop series is to help graduate students and postdocs improve their communication skills through improv-style games and activities. Improv can help make trainees more effective science communicators through emphasizing the importance of listening and engaging with their audience. Continue reading

Illuminating Biology

“Instead of cursing the darkness, light a candle”–Benjamin Franklin

Some organisms don’t need a candle, a star (like the sun), or even electricity for light. A few bacteria, insects, fungi and marine creatures produce light on their own, a phenomenon known as bioluminescence (“bio-“=life, “-luminescence”=light). Bioluminescence, the end product of a chemical reaction occurring inside cells, has evolved multiple independent times in nature. A general chemical reaction is shown below depicting how light is produced by the enzyme luciferase, which cleaves the molecule luciferin to produce oxyluciferin and light. In some organisms, the chemical reaction is this simple; however, other organisms, such as bioluminescent bacteria, have more complex systems to produce light that is an expansion of this simple framework.

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Luciferin + O2 ———————————-> oxyluciferin + light

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Science-Elementary and Inspiring

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Children may be completely oblivious to this, but they start experimenting with science way before elementary school. They are inadvertently exploring scientific principles while building contraptions, playing with Legos, blowing bubbles, and exploring a plethora of other ideas stemming from their inquisitive little minds.
Children in elementary school are observant, inquisitive and constantly ask questions. Science education in elementary schools is tailored to their inquisitiveness and enthusiasm. However, I believe a key element in promoting science education is to sustain this enthusiasm and inquisitiveness in the long run. Continue reading