microbiology

Education Outreach: Fun for All!

By Maureen Gwinn, Ph.D., DABT

Since 2007, the Girl Scouts Council Nation’s Capital Chapter has organized a Girl Scout Science Day to give local Girl Scouts an opportunity to learn more about science in a fun and friendly environment. 

I first became involved as a friend of the troop leader in charge of the event.  She and I would work on ideas, adapt experimental protocols and talk our science friends into volunteering at the event. 

EPA's Maureen Gwinn: "I enjoy every opportunity I have to encourage kids to have fun with science."

From the beginning, experiments have been led by Cadette or Senior Girl Scouts with the assistance of volunteers, including troop ‘moms’ and ‘dads’ and area scientists. We have hands-on experiments that address concepts of chemistry, microbiology, genetics, and toxicology.  We have had discussions related to what goes into your personal hygiene products, why DNA is unique to each of us, and how forensic science can help to solve a crime.

The Cadette and Senior Girl Scouts running the experiments at a recent event were the 4th graders who participated five years ago.  It has been a pleasure to see these girls not only learn the scientific concepts well enough to teach them to the new Brownie and Junior Girl Scouts, but to watch them take on more responsibility for the event itself.  Through my involvement in this event, I have been privileged to watch those young, giggly ten-year-old girls turn into responsible young ladies – that still giggle, but do so while teaching or setting up for the next group of girls. 

This event inspired me to volunteer in education outreach at other events, including the Society of Toxicology Annual meeting, EPA’s Earth Day celebrations, and the USA Science & Engineering Festival

Volunteering in education outreach was not something I had considered in the past, but after participating in the Girl Scout Science Day for the past five years, I enjoy every opportunity I have to encourage kids to have fun with science, to ask questions about how things work, and to work together to solve scientific problems. 

The Society of Toxicology Education Committee has ways to help support these types of opportunities, and for K-12 in particular we are putting together a website of ideas, experiments, and how-to’s to get you started in the new year. 

Are you interested in getting involved in education outreach, but don’t know where to start? Or are you already involved and have some tips or favorite resources to share? Please post your questions or suggestions in the comments section below so we can join forces.

The impact these events have on the kids is worth the effort. 

About the Author:  Maureen Gwinn is a biologist in EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment and works as an Associate National Program Director for Sustainable and Healthy Communities.  She is currently serving in her final year as the K-12 Subcommittee Chair for the Society of Toxicology and is always looking for ideas for scientific outreach.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Scientist at Work: Eric Villegas, Ph.D.

Eric Villegas, Ph.D. is a research microbiologist in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. His recent work focuses on next generation sequencing technology to better understand risks associated with waterborne parasites.

Dr. Villegas is on the Editorial Board for The Scientific World Journal Exit EPA Disclaimer. He is a member of the American Society of Parasitologists, the American Society for Microbiology and the American Water Works Association.

How does your science matter?

My research primarily focuses on parasites in water. We’re working to determine the levels of these parasites as they relate to human exposure risks. In order to provide that data, we have to develop tools that enable us to detect the parasites. The tools we have developed now allow us to better assess the risks associated to these pathogens and provide insights on how to mitigate these issues.

If you could have dinner with any scientist, past or present, who would it be and what would you like to ask them about?

My choice would be the two “Steves” who started Apple, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. I’d like to ask them what were their inspirations and driving forces behind their development of the Apple computer. Do they have any words of wisdom for the next generation scientists and engineers?

Click here to keep reading Dr. Villegas’s Scientist at Work profile.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Scientist at Work: Dr. Swinburne A.J. Augustine


Dr. Swinburne A. J. Augustine (Jason), Ph.D. is an EPA Research Microbiologist/Immunologist. His research is aimed at developing and applying rapid, cost-effective and multiplexed immunoassays to determine and/or measure human exposures to environmental pathogens using antibodies in human saliva as biomarkers of exposure. He is a member of the American Association of Immunologists and the American Society for Microbiology. Dr. Augustine also served in the U.S. Army.

How does your science matter?

Every day, we are exposed to a myriad of harmful environmental (airborne, food-borne, and waterborne) organisms. Sometimes they make us sick but more often than not, our immune system protects us from these pathogens. My research uses antibodies in human saliva to measure levels of exposure to environmental pathogens. Epidemiologists use this data to determine if the levels of exposure are high enough to be harmful to humans. This information helps inform Agency decisions on what measures should be taken to protect human health. My research partners and I are analyzing multiple pathogens simultaneously, which saves EPA time and money.

If you could have dinner with any scientist, past or present, who would it be and what would you like to ask them about?

I’d like to have dinner with Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek. I’d ask him what inspired him to invent the microscope and what is the secret to its construction?

What do you like most about your research?

I really enjoy the collaboration with a range of scientists including epidemiologists, virologists, microbiologists, immunologists and engineers. We work together to tackle tough water quality, sustainability and exposure questions in order to ensure the protection of public health and the environment.

To keep reading about Dr. Augustine, click here.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.