Scientist Spotlights feature University of Michigan scientists sharing their cutting-edge research. These presenters have been trained to share their research through the U-M Museum of Natural History Science Communication Fellows program. Suitable for upper elementary through adult audiences.

Understanding the Ocean's Mighty Microbes

Ages: Teens and Adults
Grades: 9+
Duration: 2 minutes

Houston, we have a plastic problem! Might mighty microbes be the solution? Learn what U-M Professor Melissa Duhaime's research can teach us about how microbes interact with their environment, particularly when their environment is being altered by people.

-Melissa Duhaime, microbiologist and assistant professor, University of Michigan Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Duhaime Lab 

The Mother of Whales—Maiacetus inuus

Audience: Teens, Adults
Grades: 9+
Duration: 9.5 minutes

In this video, U-M Museum of Paleontology Chief Vertebrate Preparator Bill Sanders explores the fascinating world of early whale fossils and the skeletons of Maiacetus inuus.  

-Bill Sanders is Chief Preparator of the Vertebrate Fossil Preparation Lab and a Research Scientist in the U-M Museum of Paleontology and Department of Anthropology.

Beyond the 5 Senses

Ages: Family
Grades: K-8
Duration: 11 minutes

Can you trick your own brain? University of Michigan Department of Kinesiology researcher Elana Goldenkoff describes two senses we have beyond the traditional five and offers experiments you can try at home to test (and maybe even trick!) these senses.

Sleep and the Brain - Video

Ages: Elementary-Adults
Grades: 3+
Duration: 10 minutes

What do brains do while we sleep? Alika Sulaman uses light to study tiny mouse brains. She hopes to learn what their brains are doing while they sleep so the mice can remember things when they're awake. This research can have implications for understanding the same processes in humans.

Make a Mouse Brain

Audience: Ages 8-13
Grades: 3-8
Duration: ~25  minutes

Grab some pipe cleaners and scotch tape to create a model mouse brain hemisphere as seen in the Sleep and the Brain video.


  • Pipecleaners (~60 pieces)
  • Scotch tape
  • Optional: 
    • Play-Doh or tiny balloons
    • Plastic straw
    • Light source (e.g. flashlight or laser pointer)

The above video and activity were developed by Alika Sulaman, a University of Michigan neuroscience graduate student and a U-M Museum of Natural History Science Communication Fellow.

Evolution of Sharks

Ages: Teens and Adults
Grades: 6+
Duration: 9 minutes

Director of the U-M Museum of Paleontology and fish paleontologist Matt Friedman answers questions about the evolution of sharks including their role as predators, why shark teeth are more prevalent than shark skeletons, and how today's sharks differ from their prehistoric ancestors.

-Matt Friedman is Director and Associate Curator of the U-M Museum of Paleontology and Associate Professor in the U-M Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

Farming for the Future: Ecologically-Based Agriculture

Ages: Children and Family
Grades: 3-5, 6-8
Duration: 7 minutes
Materials: Soil from two different locations, water, funnels, coffee filters, cups, kitchen scale [Optional: Compost]

How can farmers increase the sustainability of agriculture? U-M researcher Etienne Herrick conducts soil experiments to demonstrate how healthy soil can provide the answers. Grab some soil and experiment along with her! 

- Etienne Herrick is a PhD student at the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan.

Life is Sweet

Ages: Youth, Adult
Grades: 8+
Duration: 12 minutes

Life is sweet... or is it?

Cupcakes, cookies, soda pop, candy. What effects does this sugar have on our brains and behavior? Can we pass a sweet tooth on to our children? Dr. Manaswini Sarangi studies fruit flies to learn more about the effects of high dietary sugar. Watch the flies closely - what type of sugar do you think they'll prefer?

-Manaswini Sarangi is a post-doctoral researcher in the University of Michigan Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology.

How Our Immune System Kills a Virus

Ages: Children and Family
Grades: 3-5, 6-8
Duration: 3 minutes

Your body has a whole arsenal prepped and ready to fight these micro-invaders! Dr. Arti Dumbrepatil, a former University of Michigan postdoctoral researcher in biochemistry and one of the museum's Science Communication Fellows, shows how using cookie dough. If only real viruses could be so tasty!

- Dr. Arti Dumbrepatil, PhD, is a science communicator and freelance science writer.