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Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology

Where Science Meets Society

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Last week’s cloudy skies and frequent rain contributed to an unusually wet central Illinois summer, but could not dampen the enthusiasm for science displayed by 24 middle school girls who converged on the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) to learn about plants, pollination and technology.

Campers collect insect samples outside at the pollinatarium.
Campers collect insect samples outside at the pollinatarium.

The attendees of Pollen Power!, a week-long science day camp, participated in laboratories, presentations and activities at the IGB as well as other University of Illinois science and technology facilities, including Champaign-Urbana Community FabLab, the Plant Biology greenhouse, and the Pollinatarium. Campers learned about the science of plant response to global climate change by engaging directly with scientists and the tools and methods they use.

Girls who attended the camp this year used microscopes to identify pollen from hundreds of plant species; scripted, designed and recorded television “forecasts” to describe the past and future of Earth’s climate and its ecological impact; and collected images, constructed a computer model, and 3D printed replicas of real pollen grains.

As in previous years of the camp, girls were encouraged to talk with female scientists—graduate students who acted as camp counselors, and faculty members who gave presentations and attended lunch groups—about research, life goals, and experiences in science.

“I liked talking with scientists. I talked to May Berenbaum,” said Aisha DeSouza, 13, referring to a lunchtime conversation with the National Medal of Science Award recipient, Entomology Department Head, and IGB Genomic Ecology of Global Change (GEGC) research theme member. “Her story and what she studies were cool.”

Head of Entomology May Berenbaum was one of several campus members who spoke with the attendees during the week-long camp.
Head of Entomology May Berenbaum was one of several campus members who spoke with the attendees during the week-long camp.

“It was really fun, and you got to do cool activities,” said another camper, 11-year old Charlotte Ebel.  She particularly enjoyed using green-screen technology to create eye-catching effects for her team’s climate newscast, and said that she would recommend the camp to a friend.

An important goal of the program is to help girls feel comfortable in the academic research environment, and with the scientific process.

"We are excited to have the opportunity to introduce middle school girls to the idea that modern biological research tackles society's grand challenges through team work that integrates all the STEM disciplines,” said plant biologist and camp co-organizer Andrew Leakey, also a member of the GEGC research theme at the IGB.

Pollen Power! Camp, offered this summer for the third consecutive year, is funded in part by the National Science Foundation. The camp was also co-organized by USDA ARS, plant biologist and IGB GEGC theme member Lisa Ainsworth, IGB Core Facilities, and IGB Outreach staff.  Many other IGB members contributed their time and efforts to camp activities.  Next year’s camp is scheduled for June 27-July 1, 2016; registration for next year’s camp will open in spring 2016.

For more information about the camp, or to be added to a mailing list for related announcements, please contact IGB’s Director of Engagement & External Relations Melissa McKillip at or (217) 333-4619.

Associated Themes
Genomic Ecology of Global Change
Written By
Claudia Lutz.
Date Published
Photos By
Kathryn Faith and Kathryne Metcalf.