ASM Grants Support Science Activities in Local Communities

Dec. 6, 2022

After a hiatus imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, live science events made a comeback in 2022. As part of this effort, ASM launched a new grant program that provided funds up to $500 to help ASM members run microbiology-themed activities as part of extant science fairs and festivals. The activities of the 2022 grant recipients are highlighted below.

Jennifer Bennett, Ph.D. (Otterbein University)

Children looking through microscopes place on a table under a tent.
Students explore microbiology samples as part of the "Grossology" exhibit at the COSI Festival.
Source: American Society for Microbiology
At this year's Center of Science and Industry Science Festival in Columbus, Ohio, Jennifer Bennett, Ph.D., helped organize a tent titled “Grossology: The Science of Icky, Sticky, Disgusting Things.”

She and her students led participants through microbiology-specific experiences using microscopes set up with demo slides of “exciting” microbes, such as Daphnia, Euglena and filamentous algae. More than 10,000 people participated in the festival, demonstrating the huge reach of these public activities. “We are excited to bring microbes to the community,” said Bennett.

Chequita Brooks, Ph.D. (Appalachian State University)

Students standing at a table looking through a microscope.
Chequita Brooks (rear) helps students measure SARS-CoV-2 levels in wastewater samples during the North Carolina Science Festival.
Source: American Society for Microbiology
Throughout April, the North Carolina Science Festival hosted the N.C. SciMatch program, pairing middle-school educators with career scientists. Chequita Brooks, Ph.D., ran an activity that showed 100 middle school students how SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) can be measured in wastewater, helping students conceptualize how wastewater-based epidemiology can be used to track diseases in populations.

The impact on students was immediate. “The visit from Dr. Brooks inspired me to continue searching for a future career I would want to pursue later in life,” said one student. Another student added, “Dr. Brooks explained and demonstrated science as a fun and adventurous subject, which to me is appealing.” The event also had an impact on Brooks herself. “I definitely plan to continue doing classroom visits,” she said.

Karen Bushaw-Newton, Ph.D. (Northern Virginia Community College)

Flyer advertising "NOVA Night of Science" with a graphic and text.
The yearly "Night of Science" gives K-12 students the opportunity to participate in hands-on science.
Source: Karen Bushaw-Newton, Ph.D.
Local scientists from the greater Northern Virginia community took part in the NOVA “Night of Science,” which aimed to spark curiosity in science and education and encourage K-12 students to pursue a future in STEM. Over 200 children with an interest in STEM participated in the event.

Karen Bushaw-Newton, Ph.D., organized several microbiology-themed stations, including one with microscopes for participants to observe the microbial worlds of pond water samples and rotting food; a fermentation station with infographics on the process of fermentation and its role in yogurt, cheese and chocolate; and a station focused on antigen-antibody interactions. “The feedback from parents in our post-event survey was very positive,” said Bushaw-Newton. “We will do the ‘Night of Science’ event again.”

Rania Smeltz (Virginia Tech University)

As part of the 2022 Virgina Tech Science Festival, undergraduate student Rania Smeltz and her team from the microbiology chapter at Virginia Tech hosted several microbiology-themed activities for participating K-12 students. Attendees learned how to use microscopes to visualize bacteria on slides.

Hand print on an agar plate
Attendees got the chance to view microbial growth on agar plates.
Source: American Society for Microbiology
To demonstrate the importance of handwashing, the team displayed Petri dishes that had been streaked with samples collected from the following locations:

  • Different places on the Virginia Tech campus.
  • Daily commonly used items (such as iPhones).
  • Washed and unwashed hands.

A constant stream of participants kept the team busy the entire day. “We did not expect there to be so many attendees!” exclaimed Smeltz. In the future, Smeltz and her team plan on adding volunteers and having more activities to meet the surging demand.

Mark Chee, Ph.D. (University of Tennessee Southern)

Film festival flyer with text. Picture of a chicken.
"The Trouble With Chicken" was one of several movies screened as part of the MPH Film Fest.
Source: Mark Chee, Ph.D.
Mark Chee, Ph.D., organized a monthly film festival on the UT Southern campus that featured microbiology and epidemiology-themed films, including "The Spanish Flu—An Invisible Enemy," "The Trouble With Chicken" and "Why We Wash Our Hands." Each film was preceded by a short presentation from scientific experts who provided context and was succeeded by a Q&A session that encouraged active reflection by the audience.

The idea, said Chee, was to create a venue “where I can get experts in to comment about the films and address some of the questions that come up” from audience members. “I was confident that these movies would be able to generate some kind of debate,” he added.

Rebekah Taylor, Ph.D. (Frostburg State University)

A man standing in between two kids, who are using laboratory equipment at a lab bench.
Students at the Frostburg State University STEM Summer Camp learn laboratory techniques.
Source: Rebekah Taylor, Ph.D.
Rebekah Taylor, Ph.D. and her team were part of a group that hosted 25 middle school students at the Frostburg State University STEM Summer Camp in June 2022. Students used educational kits to explore the use of biotechnology and CRISPR-Cas9 to engineer Escherichia coli bacteria capable of surviving on Mars.

“The STEM camp was a great time, and our session was a success,” Taylor shared. “We will certainly do this camp again!”

Author: Geoff Hunt, Ph.D.

Geoff Hunt, Ph.D.
Geoff Hunt earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology from Princeton University.