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.

The Secrets of Cell Division 

Ages: Adult
Grades: 9+
Duration: 2 minutes

You may have heard that cells replicate through a process called cell division, but how exactly do cells know when and where to divide? These are questions that Associate Professor Laura Buttitta tries to answer in her lab in the U-M Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology. Dr. Buttitta explains the questions that drive her research and shares the story of her own path to becoming a scientist. 

What is Nuclear Fission?

Ages: Children and Family
Grades: 3-8
Duration: 7 minutes

Science has been around for thousands of years, but how does a new field of science come to be? In 1938, scientists discovered that atoms could be split into smaller particles; a process known as nuclear fission. This was the beginning of something entirely new: nuclear science. In this video, nuclear researcher Leah Clark, explains the importance and applications of nuclear science, a field where advancements are being made everyday!

-Leah Clark is a PhD student in the U-M Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences. Her research interests include nuclear non-proliferation, fission, and science policy. This video was created as part of the RELATE Communication Fundamentals Workshop, a 10-week summer intensive for graduate students.

Down the Memory Lane

Ages: Adult
Grades: 9+
Duration: 10.5 minutes

In 2014, about 5 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s disease. Sadly, many individuals will be impacted by Alzheimer's in their lifetimes, but over the past century scientists have come a long way in understanding the causes and potential treatments of this devastating and fascinating disease. Join Alzheimer's researcher Yilin Han, on a journey through the history of Alzheimer's science.

Yilin Han is a Ph.D. student in the U-M Department of Chemistry who works with proteins related to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. This video was created as part of the  RELATE Communication Fundamentals Workshop, a 10-week summer intensive for graduate students.

What's Up with Gravity

Ages: Children and Family
Grades: 5+
Duration: ~3 minutes

We are all pretty familiar with gravity, right? It’s what keeps us on the ground! Gravity is the reason we can throw a ball in the air and have it come right back down to us. These examples are at the "large scale," which means we can see the effects of gravity with the naked eye. But gravity acts a bit different when we look a little closer. Join theoretical physicist Marina David as she uncovers the secrets of gravity at the smallest scales of our universe.

Marina David is a PhD student in the U-M Physics Department. This video was created as part of the RELATE Communication Fundamentals Workshop, a 10-week summer intensive for graduate students.

Using Stem Cells to Study Brain Disease 

Ages: Adults
Grades: 9+
Duration: 10 minutes

Stem cell research is life-saving science that can sometimes be controversial, but did you know that scientists can now produce stem cells from adults? These stem cells can make three-dimensional structures called "brain organoids," which are like a simplified version of human brains. Join Postdoctoral Research Fellow Isha Verma as she shares how these cells and brain organoids can be used to study brain diseases such as epilepsy.

Isha Verma is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Michigan Medical School.  This video was created as part of the RELATE Communication Fundamentals Workshop, a 10-week summer intensive for graduate students.

Taking the Temperature of a Planetary Nursery

Ages: Children and Family
Grades: 3-8
Duration: 8 minutes

How do astronomers take the temperature of planets and other celestial objects even though they are so far away? In this video, astronomer Jenny Calahan answers this question and many others when she shares the secrets of where planets are born.

-Jenny Calahan is a PhD student in the U-M Department of Astronomy. This video was created as part of the RELATE Communication Fundamentals Workshop, a 10-week summer intensive for graduate students.

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.