On Saturday, November 12, over 500 adults and children from the surrounding community gathered at the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum to explore topics in genomics and biology at the fifth annual Genome Day, presented by the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. Visitors explored activities and ideas about concepts as diverse as ancient DNA, developmental biology, and organisms in extreme environments, led by researchers and students from the IGB, HPCBio, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the Center for the Physics of Living Cells, and the Biomedical Engineering Society.
As Brandon, a student in the MMG research theme, described, “It’s a great time interacting with other members of the IGB and the community, and teaching people about the aspects of genomic sciences: for example, giving them an appreciation for how big the genome is and how it’s packaged.”
Chaired by Professor of Animal Sciences Sandra Rodriguez-Zas, Genome Day 2016 offered eighteen stations staffed by 130 volunteers, with hands-on demonstrations designed to help the young, diverse audience actively engage with principles of genomics and biology. Spanish and Chinese translation was provided by volunteers from the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and the Chinse Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) to make the event more accessible to all.
“All the activities have so much depth, and all the volunteers have so much to share,” said Alaina Kanfer, Director for Engagement and External Relations at the IGB. Indeed, the activities covered many aspects of genomic biology and its applications: some allowed visitors to extract DNA from fruit, or explore variation in sensory receptors by tasting, smelling, and hearing various stimuli. Other activities made Punnett Squares exciting, and introduced innovative concepts in synthetic biology and genetic engineering such as lab-grown meat and caffeine made by yeast.
While each station was exciting in and of itself, it was the enthusiasm and knowledge of the volunteers that truly brought every activity to life. Due to the diversity of their backgrounds, experiences, and expertise, the volunteers were able to present complex biological principles such as those involved in plant plasticity and bioluminescence to a varied audience. Whether it was teaching about microscopy at the Tiny Things station or helping participants draw and color what they’d learned at The Art of Science station, the volunteer staff seemed to be having just as much fun as the kids.
“I love Genome Day because one of my daughters is learning about Punnett squares and components of the cell [in school],” said Sandra, a mother of three young daughters, two of whom were at the event. “She loves being able to interact with the science outside the classroom and get a different perspective from the one her teacher gives.”