Monday, August 5, 2013

Feeding stem cells and watching Waterbears: the Buck opens its doors to the public

We have had a long friendship with the folks at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. They do some great work up on the hill in Novato (you can read about the work we have funded at the Buck here) Now they have a brand new Learning Center that is going to let them train the next generation of scientists and provide the public with an up close look at stem cells, science and the research they are doing.

We asked Julie Mangada, PhD, the Education Outreach Coordinator at the Buck to tell us about the new facility. Here she is, in her own words:


The Learning Center is a hands-on science learning space. It’s really a way for the Buck Institute to throw open our doors and invite the public in; and by the public I mean K to gray. I am charged with all our K-12 education outreach but in my mind that means K to gray, all ages, because we never stop learning so with this Learning Center we can actually invite the public to come on up here and feel connected to the research that we do, because it belongs to all of us.

There are so many barriers out there between scientists and the public so this is our way of breaking down those barriers and really helping people understand what we do and helping them feel connected to our work, and helping them take ownership of what we do, because its going to change the way medicine is practiced.
The Learning Center has lab benches, it’s set up to be a wet lab, we have a tissue culture facility where people can feed stem cells, they can actually look at the differentiated progeny of the stem cells, they can look at cancer cell lines, cancer stem cells, any number of cell lines.
The public can come in on a tour and, if they like, take those stem cells out of the incubator look at them under the microscope and hear from one of the scientists who do that research how they take care of these cells and what those cells are going to be used for and the implications that has for the public.
We also do a lot of outreach for schools. We work with teachers who bring students into the Learning Center and run hands-on activities that supplement and support what the teachers are doing. The teachers know the California state standards and so our responsibility is to work with the teachers, figure out what they are teaching in the class and come up with some hands-on activities that bolster what they are teaching in school. We just want to get the kids excited about science in a tangible way and in a way that the kids can connect with so that the teachers’ job is easier.
Stem cell research is one of my passions and this lab is also set up as sort of a hub of stem cell education. The research we do belongs to everybody so there really needs to be a room where the public can come and learn and feel comfortable. You can’t do that in a science lab because there are a lot of nasty dangerous things in real science labs, so it’s wonderful to have this space where I can purposely order only non-toxic chemicals, and feel as safe having third graders in here as octogenarians. This room gives us the tools and resources to let people do all the things we do in the lab in a safe way, and in a way that they can understand. Without this room visitors would just get a lecture and, while lectures are important, its so much better to bring people in here and really engage them in the science and share with them the excitement of the work that’s taking place at the Buck.
You can learn more about the Learning Center here Julie Mangada, PhD, K-12 Education Outreach Coordinator, Buck Institute for Research on Aging

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