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.

Coral Reefs and their Mighty Microbes

Ages: Teens & Adults
Grades: 6+
Duration: 1.5 minutes

Sometimes referred to as "rainforests of the sea," coral reefs are habitat for many creatures. Reefs are built by coral polyps, which secrete calcium carbonate and their partners-in-crime, photosynthesizing Coraline algae. But that's not all! Join graduate student Joyah Watkins from the Duhaime Lab as she explains how coral reefs are also hosts to microscopic organisms like viruses and bacteria.

Zooming Into Cells

Ages: Children, Family
Grades: 3+
Duration: 13 minutes

How does a scientist see what's happening inside a cell? Madeline Motsinger takes you on a journey into her lab where you'll get to test a hypothesis through real observations about whether a drug is causing damage to cells.  

Madeline Motsinger, research assistant in the University of Michigan Department of Biological Chemistry, studies endolysosomes—key organelles that play a role in keeping cells alive. This video was developed as part of the U-M Museum of Natural History Science Communication Fellows program.

Bloomin' Algae!

Ages: Teens & Adults
Grades: 9+
Duration: 1.5 minutes

Every year the Great Lakes experience blooms of toxic algae. While algae are a normal part of aquatic ecosystems, harmful algal blooms may cause fish kills, discolored water, and skin irritation for swimmers. But what happens when the algal blooms encounter a virus? Join PhD candidate AJ Wing from the Duhaime Lab as he shares his research on the viruses that impact algal blooms.

Fish Pee to Farm the Sea

Ages: Children, Family
Grades: 3+
Duration: 5 minutes

Many of us are aware that fisheries are in decline. How can we use artificial reefs and fish pee to increase fish production in coastal ecosystems? Join Ecology and Evolutionary Biology PhD student Katrina Munsterman from the Allgeier Lab as she shares her story and passion for fisheries conservation.

How Time Flies: Can fruit flies speed up cancer research?

Ages: Teens & Adults
Grades: 9+
Duration: 1 minute

When it comes to new cancer treatments, time is of the essence! PhD student Jaimian Church is researching the fruit fly as a model for rapidly screening prostate cancer drugs. Learn more about his research in the Buttitta Lab could help get medicine to cancer patients faster.

The Buzz on Tissue Growth

Ages: Teens & Adults
Grades: 9+
Duration: 1 minute

Our bodies have many different tissues with unique functions. Some tissues grow with age. Others can heal after being damaged. One thing they have in common is that all of these tissues know when to stop growing. But how do they know? And what sends those signals? PhD student Allison Box studies tissue growth in an unlikely place: fruit fly prostates. Allison explains her research in the Buttitta Lab and how it can help us better understand cancer.

Viruses, Algae, and Bacteria! Oh My!

Ages: Teens and Adults
Grades: 6+
Duration: 2 minutes

When carbon ends up in the deep ocean, it becomes part of a carbon sink: a pool of carbon that doesn't readily contribute to climate change. Most of this deep ocean carbon comes from a microscopic food web involving algae and bacteria. Join Ecology and Evolutionary Biology PhD student Morgan Lindback from the Duhaime Lab as she explains her research on how viruses can disrupt this important food web.

The Great Divide: Cell Division and Cancer

Ages: Adult
Grades: 9+
Duration: 1.5 minutes

You might have heard that the cells in your body multiply by dividing in two. But did you know that some cells eventually stop dividing, while others just keep going? Join University of Michigan PhD student Ajai Pulianmackal as he shares his research in the Buttitta Lab. Ajai explores how some cells divide continuously, why others just stop, and what this all means for cancer research.

On the Hunt for Resistant Genes

Ages: Adult
Grades: 9+
Duration: 1.5 minutes

Our medicines are less effective when bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. But where do these resistant genes come from? University of Michigan PhD student Kathryn Langenfeld studies how viruses in wastewater contribute to this public health problem. Learn more about her research in the Duhaime Lab.

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.

Materials

  • 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.