A university for citizen scientists

By August 25th, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Comment 1

Glowing bacteria, their DNA tagged with a fluorescing protein, will help students in Bard College's citizen science course learn about infectious diseases. Photo: Dr. Brooke Jude

Glowing bacteria, their DNA tagged with a fluorescing protein, will help students in Bard College's citizen science course learn about infectious diseases. Photo: Dr. Brooke Jude

Bard College, a liberal-arts school in New York state, is hoping to foster a lifelong interest in science with its new “Citizen Science Program,” a three-week intensive regimen required of all first-year students. The course, ready to roll in January 2011, aims to give all Bard’s freshmen in-depth exposure to scientific problem solving.

The director of the new program, Dr. Brooke Jude, spoke with me about this exciting venture, explaining that “the idea is to teach science to everybody. Even if a student doesn’t want to be a scientist later on, this will give them a chance to see how to do science in everyday life.”

The goal is for students to come away with a deeper understanding of how to formulate and test a hypothesis, as well as how to critically examine the science reports they see in the news.  Jude hopes that by mixing students who like science with those who are less scientifically inclined, “we’ll see an infectious liking-of-science bubble over to students who were nervous about it before.”

Speaking of “infectious” — the course will focus on “Infectious Diseases,” a topic deeply connected to the biology of bacteria (including the development of antibiotic-resistance) as well as to the policy side of modeling and controlling the spread of disease. During the course, every student will take part in three week-long modules: a biology lab, a computer modeling lab and a section on problem-based learning. In the biology lab module, students will perform experiments aimed at the question “How do viruses infect bacteria?” Some experiments will show DNA that’s been labeled with green fluorescent protein (GFP) moving between cells, allowing students to understand how the genes for antibiotic resistance can be traded between bacteria. Says Jude, “The beauty of working with bacteria is that they grow really fast.  You can do an experiment in a day!”

Not only can the Citizen Science program increase science literacy, says Jude, but it’s also a chance to foster connections with the world outside Bard’s walls. She is eager to get the students involved in the community, both as citizen scientists and through other outreach programs, including teaching science in elementary schools and working with groups such as Habitat for Humanity. One exciting aspect of this initiative, says Jude, is “reorienting first year students to there being civic engagement opportunities out in the community.”

Imagine: A whole new generation of citizen scientists!

  • http://twitter.com/cuixu Xu Cui

    Bard College’s new “Citizen Science Program.