May the Fourth science outreach

This is the Way

Knight Campus Bioengineering students organize 'May the Fourth Be with You' science outreach at local elementary school

A group of people in a gym

The force is strong at Knight Campus.

More than a dozen PhD students from the Department of Bioengineering went to River Road El Camino Del Rio Elementary School, a Spanish-immersion school in the local 4J public school system, for a science outreach event on May 4.

The “May the Fourth Be With You” event was Star Wars-themed with many elementary students and teachers dressed in costume to participate in several science modules developed by and taught by Knight Campus students. Themes of the science modules included seeing “the force” with salt on a vibration plate, understanding soil erosion, building paper rockets, melt-writing with playdough, heat transfer, and learning about composting.

The event was organized by Karly Fear of the Hosseinzadeh Lab and Justin Svendsen of the Hettiaratchi Lab.

“Outreach is an important aspect of our mission to advance society through science,” said Fear, a Bioengineering grad student. “It empowers students to be curious and observant and to see themselves as our next generation of scientists and engineers.”

Science outreach
Two adults explain sound vibrations to a group of kids
A woman explains science to a group of kids
A person kneels with a group of kids in a gym

Funding for the science outreach event was a part of Marian Hettiaratchi’s five-year, $600,000 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation. The five-year NSF grant will fund research investigating methods to harness the regenerative potential of stem-cell-secreted proteins that could improve treatments for musculoskeletal injuries and other conditions.

A group of people in a gym with their hands in the shape of an "O"

Science outreach is a part of CAREER awards. Hettiaratchi has a head start on outreach thanks to her BIOE 251 course, in which students created activities for K-12 students as part of their classwork last year. The class is the first of three required “fundamentals of bioengineering” courses that introduce students to foundational principles in bioengineering. Topics include dimensional analysis, mass, and energy balances, conservation of mass and energy, chemical reactions and introductory biomechanics.

“The best outreach activities are designed by students trying to think through how scientific concepts in the lab can be translated to daily life,” Hettiaratchi said. “We received a lot of positive feedback about the outreach project in BIOE 251. The students loved how teaching others a new topic through a fun outreach activity could make it easier for them to understand it themselves.”

Hettiaratchi credits the strong outreach work already in place at the UO, specifically Bryan ReBar’s work with STEM Careers through Outreach, Research, and Education (STEM CORE), as essential in building the outreach portion of the CAREER proposal. ReBar hosted a workshop with the students from Knight Campus to help prepare them for the May the 4th outreach event.

“I’m really excited about the connection between the research and the education aspect,” Hettiaratchi said. “With the Knight Campus, I feel like we’re in the perfect place to combine those two things together.”

Cross-lab collaboration is a cornerstone of work at the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. Students from multiple labs participated in the May 4 event.

“We encourage our Bioengineering students to think globally and that goes for work inside our labs as well as coming together to do science outreach in our community,” said the inaugural Lorry Lokey Chair of the Department of Bioengineering, Danielle Benoit. “At Knight Campus, we are building a culture of science outreach, whether it’s an event like May 4th or our annual Science Knight Out public talk.”

The event also generated interest in local media, with this story appearing on KVAL.

Knight Campus Labs

A woman explains science to a group of kids

Hosseinzadeh Lab
Learn more about the Hosseinzadeh Lab which seeks to develop novel solutions for biomedical challenges of the 21st century. We work in a collaborative and creative team at the intersection of computer science, chemistry, and biology. Our lab is inspired by scientific questions and is dedicated to improving inclusivity, equity, and diversity in STEM.

Three adults demonstrate heat transfer paper to kids

Hettiaratchi Lab
Learn more about the Hettiaratchi Lab which seeks to combine expertise in chemical and biomedical engineering to design biomaterials to control protein delivery to injured tissues.