Taking Plant Science Out of the Lab and into the Community
By Stephanie Wise
Outreach and Engagement Communications Intern
The Center for Applied Plant Sciences (CAPS) and the Arabidopsis Biological Resource Center (ABRC) at Ohio State are pushing for children to be more in touch with the world around them - in the realm of plants, that is. Through several programs and partnerships coupled with an earnest zeal to share how plant life affects everyone, the drive to get plant science out into the community is becoming more and more apparent through Ohio State's efforts.
"ABRC is one of the two global stock centers for Arabidopsis, which is the model system for plant research. Scientists around the globe donate seeds and DNA from unique strains of Arabidopsis to ABRC. We preserve, reproduce, and maintain these resources, making them available for researchers and educators worldwide," said Courtney Price, the education and outreach specialist for the ABRC and CAPS. "CAPS supports interdisciplinary teams of scientists working to find solutions to global problems in four strategic areas: photosynthesis and carbon fixation, biomass and bioproducts, crop improvement and functional foods, and plant-microbe interactions. The two centers together are very interested in raising public awareness about the importance of plants in society."
One focus of these two centers is providing resources for K-12 education through teacher professional development, access to curriculum, and free seeds. Through a set of education modules, middle and high school teachers are able to grow Arabidopsis in their classrooms. Price noted that growing Arabidopsis is an effective way of teaching students about genetics and other important science concepts.
In terms of reaching children, the centers host K-12 students on campus for various programs. When schools send in requests to the centers, many times they will be able to bring students to tour the laboratories, the growth chambers, the greenhouses, and then participate in hands-on activities.
Price elaborated on why getting educators and students involved in plant science is so critical.
"Many people have plant blindness - meaning they don't realize the important role plants play in their daily lives. For many, plants are just a part of the landscape, something they take for granted. I think it is always important to include and engage people in having a better understanding of science," said Price.
The CAPS and ABRC have many critical engagement partnerships with places such as Columbus City Schools, Pickerington Local School District, and the Franklin Park Conservatory. However, one partnership stands out in its reach - COSI.
Through COSI's videoconferencing resources and a grant recently received by CAPS, the two hope to come together to expand the ways in which plant science can be accessed.
"We are co-developing a new interactive video conferencing program for middle and high school students focused on plant science. Once complete, we will have schools across the United States that can connect into our program and talk to a researcher from CAPS," said Jessica Takacs, manager of interactive video conferences at COSI. "Students will be able to ask the experts questions, do hands-on activities, and interact with students from other schools during the program."
With the goal of spreading plant science and awareness in mind, Price mentioned how this was a big step in making plant science education more accessible to schools, educators, and students, and how it is an interesting way to make it more interactive.
"A lot of people are intimidated by science, so you have to find that engaging hands-on thing that catches their attention and gets them interested. Then you can build in that science learning as they are having fun," said Price. "You can be a more informed citizen and make better choices for yourself and your community if you have a basic understanding and comfort level with science."
First photo: A young visitor at the CAPS' booth gets an up-close view of plants during a Meet a Scientistevent at COSI.
Second photo: A middle school student from the Olentangy Local School District extracts DNA from applesauce during a visit to CAPS and ABRC.
Contact: Courtney Price, firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more about outreach and engagement efforts from CAPS: CAPS in BLOOME: New Grant Funds Educational Outreach