Microbiology is Cool! at WiSci

Oct. 16, 2019

Get Involved in ASM’s Global Public Health Programs

Across the globe, women are systematically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, arts and design and mathematics (STEAM) careers  For example, only 28% of the world’s researchers are women, and from 1903-2017, only 17 women versus 572 men received Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine.
These gender disparities are an unfortunate reality today, but the Women in Science (WiSci) Girls’ STEAM camp, a program of the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up initiative, aims to change that fact.
WiSci, a 2-week-long, all-expenses-paid camp for young women, brings together female-identifying secondary school students from around the world to learn from scientists at ASM, Google, NASA, Intel and more. One of this year’s WiSci camps took place in Tallinn, Estonia, and I had the opportunity to co-facilitate a microbiology-focused workshop with 100 students from Eastern Europe and the United States. Together with ASM Young Ambassador Dr. Triinu Visnapuu, we explored the invisible world of organisms that live in us, on us and around us through hands-on educational activities.

Dr. Triinu Visnapuu, ASM Young Ambassador, greets students before the microbiology workshop at WiSci Estonia.
Source: courtesy Alexis Rose

In one activity, the students assembled an innovative and affordable scientific tool, the Foldscope. This portable paper microscope can be built in less than an hour and magnifies samples up to 140x. Dr. Visnapuu and I gathered specimens ahead of time, using easily accessible items such as onion skin, pond water, lettuce and yeast. During class, the girls used tweezers and scissors to cut tiny samples to mount on slides. After the Foldscopes were assembled, one curious student even went hunting for more samples in the hallway  - and spotted a bug. She collected it, then mounted it on a slide to examine it in microscopic detail.

A student peers through the lens of her Foldscope, a portable paper microscope capable of 140x magnification.
Source: courtesy Alexis Rose

ASM provided each student with a Foldscope to take home with the goal of continuing their scientific inquiry in their own communities and inspiring them to pursue the microbial sciences for life.
In another activity, Dr. Visnapuu showed the students how to create agar art using petri dishes as canvases and bacteria (such as Serratia marcescens and Bacillus mycoides) as paint. It was incredible to see the blending of art and science and it was clear that the students really enjoyed themselves.
Agar art created at the 2019 WiSci Estonia girls’ STEAM camp.
Source: Photo by Triinu Visnapuu, Ph.D.

After the ASM workshop, the students shared overwhelmingly positive feedback on surveys, writing things like:
  • Microbiology is a cool, interesting, STEAM field.
  • I learned that I really enjoy microbiology!
  • Microbiology is a fun thing :)
Science is an important component of girls’ education at every age, but it is imperative that STEAM training is a major focus at the middle and high school levels in order to put girls on a science trajectory. Workshops like WiSci aim to engage girls during a critical time-period when they are forming opinions about their abilities and making decisions about their futures. By enhancing girls’ STEAM skills through hands-on experimentation, we can inspire young women to become leaders in science.
To learn more about WiSci and its mission, please visit www.girlup.org/wisci.
To become involved in ASM’s Global Public Health Programs as a consultant, volunteer, or country ambassador, please visit www.asm.org/globalhealth.

Author: Alexis Rose, M.A.

Alexis Rose, M.A.
Alexis Rose is a Program Coordinator for ASM’s Global Public Health Programs in Washington, DC. She supports workforce development and laboratory capacity building initiatives in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Europe. She also aims to inspire the next generation of science leaders by creating curriculum for the Women in Science (WiSci) Girls’ STEAM camp.