Laying the Foundations

When we set out our course towards an intensive 2-weeks interdisciplinary science program, we were focused on providing science enthusiasts and life-long learners with a set of basic skills needed to understand interdisciplinary life sciences (see our blog post announcement). We assumed no prior knowledge (except high school level in STEM subjects and a good level in English), and we wanted to provide the participants with solid science foundations, no matter if they decided to pursue scientific careers, or if they wanted to understand the scientific process better.

Foundations 2018 participants
Foundations 2018 participants

After more than 130 hours of learning, teaching, experimenting, and having fun with electronics, programming, yeast, plants, DNA, plankton, data analysis, and communicating about science, we have achieved much more than we expected. Our 8 participants from different backgrounds and experience levels felt empowered! They discovered that they were able to do much more than they previously thought, and they found within themselves exceptional motivation to work on challenging projects. Check out what one of them wrote about her experience!

The four main projects (Connected Plant, Supertasters, Mystery Yeast, and Plankton Hunt, you can read more about them below) led the participants through the active process of scientific discovery and the development of interdisciplinary thinking. Participants’ skills were becoming more and more apparent towards the end of our program, through a blog post about the citizen science, the organization of a public science outreach event, and even the Labympics competition! The foundations of interdisciplinary life science skills were laid for the participants of the Rhizome Foundations course!

Rhizome Association team
Rhizome Association team

For us, the Rhizome team and teachers, the foundations have been laid for a much larger project – Science Survival Kit (SSK). The Foundations course was an experiment – it was our first program taught in a new setting, gracefully supported by our partner Mediterranean Institute for Life Sciences (MedILS), and financially supported by the Alcuin Fund managed by the King Baudouin Foundation, as well as through our crowdfunding campaign. We are excited to have a solid basis to build upon an amazing experience for summer 2019, and to go beyond the Rhizome Foundations into project-based learning and exploration of the science survival skills!

 

To understand better what we did in the Foundations course 2018, check out the Foundations 2018 project descriptions below, and the Twitter Moments: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, End of week 1, Start of week 2, End of week 2

To learn more about the Science Survival Kit, check out this Twitter Moment and our website.


Foundations 2018 projects

author: Nikola Zarevski

Connected Plant

The purpose of this project, that spanned the whole course, was to monitor plant growth using an autonomous electronic system allowing to gather environmental data. Participants learned about the electronics and programming by using Arduino boards (Adafruit Metro) and sensors that they controlled by coding in Python. We introduced data representation and data visualization by plotting the quantitative data each team collected during this project.

 

Supertasters

This short project introduced the central dogma of molecular biology: DNA → RNA → Proteins. Participants performed a PCR on their own DNA and a gel electrophoresis to detect the presence or the absence of a specific allele allowing people to taste the phenylthiocarbamide or PTC molecule, which has an extremely bitter taste. We saw how the genetic information encoded within DNA manifests itself in the observable characteristics or traits (the phenotype) of an individual.

 

Mystery Yeast

During this project, the participants needed to examine the phenotype (the observable characteristics) of a mystery strain of budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This project taught them the scientific methodology, basic laboratory skills and the importance of keeping notes of their work. The project involved understanding the process of mitosis and meiosis and learning the basic aspects of yeast biology.

 

Plankton Hunt

Along with learning how to properly use a microscope and make scientific drawings, this project showed the participants the importance of communicating about their work and how to engage people to contribute or participate to it.
At the end of the two weeks, the students organized a science outreach event ”Seeing the unseen”. It was a perfect way to present all the work they accomplished during the course: various stands to show their tools and results, accessible presentations, and an enormous poster of the planktonic life of the Adriatic sea was prepared and animated by the participants of the Foundations 2018.