Stanford at The Tech: Final Projects

The final project is a chance to make a lasting impact on teaching science to the public. In your second quarter, you'll take what you've learned and create something that stays at The Tech.

You can create new floor programs, additional exhibits for the Genetics: Technology with a Twist exhibition, new features for the web site, help shape curriculum for classes, etc. You can also take someone's initial ideas, flesh them out, prototype them, and roll out the new project. As these final projects are fairly complex, they can span multiple quarters and so can involve more than one student or postdoc.

Below is a running list of final projects completed, ongoing, and abandoned.

"Genetics in the flicks"

This program asks, "Do movies and TV get the story right when it comes to genetics?" The answer is of course, no. The 15-20 minute program is interactive with lots of questions and audience participation. The visitors get to see clips from Jurassic Park and the original Fly as well as talk about movies like Multiplicity, Star Wars II, Spiderman, Spy Kids, and the TV show, Kim Possible. Genetics in Flicks has been very successful and is much loved by The Tech's CEO, Peter Giles.

Graduate students Dan Ginsburg and Joylette Portlock conceived of the project independently. After some early work at the end of Dan's stay, Joylette took the bull by the horns and really brought the program to life. Joylette wrote the script and prepared the presentation. At the end of her tenure at The Tech, Joylette handed the project to graduate student Eszter Vladar. Eszter prototyped the program and extensively modified it based on the results of that prototyping. The program is now a PowerPoint presentation with lots of fun pictures and a little bit of science.

The project is now part of The Tech's programming repertoire.

FAQ Brochures/ Ask a Geneticist Kiosk

This project is the brainchild of graduate student Eszter Vladar. Her idea was to take some of the questions she and the other Stanford participants are frequently asked and write up simple, colorful, single page brochures that answer those questions. Initially the brochures were to be placed in the Genetic's Counselor's office in the Technology with a Twist.

Because of the success of Ask a Geneticist, this project was given an exhibit of its own in the genetics exhibition. It now consists of a computer where visitors can ask questions, a drop off box for those who want to write their questions and brochure holders for all of the brochures. The new exhibit is now open.

Eszter developed two brochures--a genetics glossary and one on GM foods. Postdocs Colin Davidson and Robin Kimmel worked on a third one about stem cells. And graduate student Anne Tecklenberg-Strehlow worked on a fourth brochure on eye color.

One of the great things about this project is that it can expand over time. Stanford participants can continue to contribute brochures helping to explain topics like GMO's and health, cloning, stem cells and lots more.

Purification of GFP

In the wet lab part of the exhibition, visitors get to transform E. coli with a plasmid containing the GFP gene. The visitors can then check The Tech's website the next day to see if their experiment worked. The transformation is linked to the idea that insulin is made the same way.

Sophie Candille and Ky Sha began to work on a program that takes the insulin idea to the next level by showing visitors how proteins can be purified. Colin Davidson, Flo Pauli, and Cheryl Chow prototyped and perfected the idea so it is now ready to go.

It is set up so that the facilitator helps three groups through the process of putting a lysate on a column and then eluting the protein. Since it is GFP, it is easy to figure out which tubes have the "purified" protein. We may even let them take it home with them if they want.

Of course, their GFP isn't pure enough for crystallography work at the end of the activity, but the visitor does get the idea of how a protein is purified. The program will officially be out on the floor Spring quarter.

Fixing the Speak Out exhibit

Once an exhibition is up and running, the developer often find parts that don't work as planned. For Technology with a Twist, that exhibit component is the Speak Out exhibit.

In this exhibit you get to express an opinion on some current genetic policy issue. For example, the current topic is whether growth hormone should be given to people who are short for no obvious medical reason.

As it is currently configured, visitors aren't given enough opportunity to think through the issues involved. Erin Cline decided to try to fix this--a pretty daunting task!

What Erin came up with was a more directed way for the visitor to arrive at their decision. They get to make a decision and then we take them through the consequences of that decision, what the decision could mean for other related issues, etc.

Erin wrote up the questions and began to prototype them out on the floor but then her time ran out.

Cheryl Chow also took this project on. Her first idea was a storybook with different endings where Johnny can decide to take growth hormone or nor for various reasons. The idea looked good on paper but ended up being more writing than any visitor would read.

She then set to work on a Cosmo-type quiz where visitors can guage their comfort level with their own height. This was very effective and appealing for middle school students. We worked this concept up and got it ready for the floor (to put into the exhibit). Then, the new Ask a Geneticist kiosk was put in where the Speak Out exhibit used to be. So the project is on ice until we can find room for it.

Automation of the Purification of GFP program

At some point the very successful wetlab will be expanded to include new programs. Post doc Kim Matulef decided to help out on turning the protein purification program into a computer-mediated program. Not trivial!

We worked on it together for 9 weeks and had it very close to completion. It is pretty intricate and it may or may not work. Final testing will have to wait until the wetlab is expanded.

"Genetics in the Flicks" on the web

Genetics in the flicks is a great program that doesn't get run too often. In its current form it requires a level of understanding of genetics that is beyond most staff members. Which means it is up to us to run it.

But it also requires the presenter to be able to effectively communicate science to the public. For most of us, this doesn't happen until we've worked at the museum for awhile. Typically folks are ready by the second quarter.

By the second quarter, most participants have begun to work on their final projects. Or to teach. Or to really focus on their writing. Which is why this program doesn't come out very often.

Sarah Pierce decided that she wanted to convert the program over to the web. With its use of video and graphics, the program was ideal for web conversion. So I bought Macromedia's Flash and Dreamweaver (the program, not the Gary Wright song) and she began to work on this.

Since neither of us was conversant in Flash, the learning curve was very steep. So steep that we got a good start on it but didn't finish it. This one is ongoing.

Cheek Cell Staining

Graduate student Natalie Dye wanted to see more emphasis on cells. So she worked to create a cheek cell staining program. In this program, visitors scrape their cheek with a Q-tip, spread the goo on a slide and stain it and the look at it in a microscope.

She unearthed the Tech's microscopes, worked out the staining protocol (making significant changes to simplify things), and prototyped it on the floor. To add pizazz, we decided to make it so the visitor could get a picture of their cells.

We bought a crummy microscope, tried it out and then bought a nice digital camera. Visitors love getting pictures of their own cells.

Right now visitors give us their email address and we send them their photo. At some point in the future, we'll connect it to TechTags so they can just pick up their pictures on the web (like they do now with their results of their bacterial transformation).

Spooling Visitor DNA

One of the most popular programs is one where visitors get to isolate DNA from calf thymus. We had already improved the program so they could take the isolated DNA home with them. But post doc Bronwyn MacInnis wanted to make it even better.

What really draws visitors in is anything about themselves. So we reasoned that if they could get their own DNA, they'd like the program even more.

As of October 2006, we are still prototyping this one. Right now the yield is pretty low especially for kids. Bronwyn is mucking with the protocol to try to increase yields using spins, heat and whatever else we can think of.

What would be very cool is is we can combine this one with the cell staining one. They could look at their own cells. And then isolate their own DNA.

This project was supported by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Center For Research Resources, National Institutes of Health. Its content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of NCRR or NIH.