Category Archives: Outreach

Camp BIOmed – A Science Summer Camp!

The 2015 Northwest Association for Biomedical Research’s Camp BIOmed successfully ran from July 6- August 21, at Seattle Lutheran High School and the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. High school students had a great time learning the science and applications of biotechnology, biomedicine, and bioethics!

This year, Camp BIOmed featured three different scientific track options:

1. Do-It-Yourself Scientific Cancer Laboratory was taught by Dr. Jan Chalupny. Students explored the science of cancer biology, biomarker analysis, and current cancer treatments by performing DNA gel electrophoresis, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays, building smart phone microscopes, and dissecting sheep brains.












2. CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) was taught by Dr. Alaina Garland. Students spent the first few days learning how to use scientific techniques including DNA fingerprinting, blood spatter analysis, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays for poison detection, heart dissection, and blood typing to understand human physiology and investigate crime scenes.  On the next to last day of camp, they used their scientific knowledge to solve a mock murder all by themselves!






















3.Origami of Life with Bioinformatics was taught by Andrew Klock. Here, students examined the relationship between protein structure and function using bioinformatics tools like BLAST, a tool to compare DNA and protein sequences, and Fold-it, an online video game designed at the University of Washington to allow the public to help scientists solve complex protein structures.


We had some great feedback from students showing that they had FUN learning science!:

  • “This past week I attended the DIY camp at Seattle Lutheran High School. This was a wonderful program and I am very glad that I was able to be a part of it. I really enjoyed how small the class sizes were because I felt like I got a very personalized experience. The techniques and curriculum that I leaned this past week were very interesting and prevalent. I have a leg up on many other people my age due to this program. Thank you so much for putting this camp on.”
  • “The Camp made me interest in biomed spike dramatically. I want to have a career involving biomed when I grow up.”
  • “Dr. Garland helped me realize bio is a really cool subject and that Biomedical Engineering is a great career option for me.”
  • “This was a lot of fun and I can’t wait to do it again next year.”
  • “I found what we did really interesting and would love to do this sort of stuff again.”

We hope to run the 2016 Camp BIOmed at University of Washington facilities. The registration for 2016 camp opens in the month of February!

Keep visiting our webpage for updated information on camp and our other great student programs.

Feel free to email any questions to or




Mansi Kaushik Vats holds a masters degree in biotechnology and is the Camp BIOmed Manager at the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research.





PhUn Times Make Great Science Outreach!

phun-color-smallPhUn Week is an annual week-long event sponsored and encouraged by The American Physiological Society to promote science outreach in K-12 education. The event stands for Physiology Understanding, and encourages K-12 teachers to team up with higher educators for the purpose of developing experiences for young students to learn and explore the world of physiology. The benefit of the relationship is the practical knowledge of designing and implementing age-appropriate lessons, provided by K-12 teachers, paired with the vast expertise of the subject matter, provided by the physiologist. Together, great things can be established.

If you’re a K-12 teacher like me, the thought of attempting PhUn Week for the first time is exhilarating, overwhelming, and a little bit scary. The concept sounds like an incredible experience for students, and a perfect opportunity to make science come alive, but where do you start? How do you design (or sometimes borrow) activities that will work? How do you structure the event? With so much freedom to design an event that works for you, the task can quickly turn grandiose. The best advice APS gave to me was to start small. After completing two years of PhUn Week, I can state with confidence that it does become easier to plan and to build in more layers over time.

Are you considering joining the club? This link will provide all of the details from APS on how to get started and what to do:

In the meantime, below is some advice I’ve gathered from my own experiences of planning and implementing PhUn Week on a high school campus:

1) Know your target audience

-I taught my students, then they taught elementary students, then my students had an opportunity to learn directly from our visiting physiologist. Who do you want to involve in the event?

2) Decide on your time frame and start planning early

-My culminating event was on Friday of PhUn Week, where 6th grade students were bussed to our campus to interact with my high school kids, and when the visiting physiologist was available to come. If you want to involve more than your own students, planning early is crucial in order to complete all necessary paperwork and approval processes.

3) Don’t reinvent the wheel

-A familiar phrase to teachers, but don’t forget to apply it during your planning. The APS site has some great resources shared by previous teachers that can be used or modified to fit your needs. Does your physiologist have access to lab supplies to borrow, or previous lab activities that you can modify to your target audience? With so many details to plan, it isn’t necessary to write all of the lessons from scratch.

 4) Identify your resources, and use them

-What resources do you have available that can enhance your event while reducing some of the teaching from your plate (by jesse)? If your physiologist isn’t available for the entire week, perhaps some graduate students can attend, or perhaps some of your room parents are experts in the field. Inquiry-based lessons that involve student discovery are powerful. You shouldn’t do all of the teaching.

 5) Remember that it’s about the experience for students

-Regardless of the actual time you allocate to PhUn Week, the fact is that students are gaining a new experience to interact with science in a fun and memorable way. Keep it simple, keep the focus on them.

Are you ready to get started? I’d love to hear your ideas! Have you participated in PhUn Week before? What type of event did you establish? What are some words of wisdom you can share from your own experiences?

Are we having PhUn yet? The value of outreach in science and education

The bad news first….


Figure of estimated annual test score gains around the world. The US is in black. Figure from EducationNext.

The United States lags behind other countries in K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.   Even the U.S. rate of progress to improve science and math achievement is bested by 24 countries including Latvia, Chile and Brazil, who have the highest growth rates.

The public perception of science is declining.  From 1999 to 2009 the public perception that science and technology are the greatest achievements of the U.S. fell from 47% to 27%.  In addition, only 17% of those surveyed thought U.S. scientific achievement is the best in the world.  When scientists were polled, 85% felt that the public’s lack of understanding of science was a significant problem, and 49% believed that the public has an unrealistic expectation about the speed at which scientific advancements are made.

Federal support for research and development is decreasing.  U.S. federal expenditures on research and development is expected to decrease by 6.5% in fiscal year 2013, and federal spending on research as a percent of GDP will fall to 0.8%, a 40 year low. This is ominous data given that science and technology are required to solve many of the problems facing our country now and in the future. Not to mention the overwhelming evidence that investment in scientific research is a proven economic engine.

Now the good news…it’s time to have some PhUn!

The statements above paint a gloomy picture about the direction of science education and funding. They also raise the question (at least in my mind) of what we, as scientists and teachers, can do to reverse these trends. Is it sufficient for scientists to simply hunker down, spend more time in the lab, submit more grants, and be satisfied with the notion that the public just doesn’t get it, or that it is the problem of teachers to fix STEM education? Are K-12 educators to just sit back and hope that updated content and innovative lesson plans materialize out of thin air?  If these options are not sufficient (they aren’t), then what other choices do we have?  Scientific outreach may be the key, or at least an important part of the solution.

The purpose of scientific outreach is to enhance public awareness and understanding of science.  Outreach does not have to be a daunting, all-consuming task.
From the perspective of a scientist, it can be achieved by making a visit to a classroom, talking with your institute’s public affairs office about an important research finding, or writing a letter to your local representatives. K-12 educators can facilitate this process by being familiar with the ongoing work of local colleges and universities, inviting scientists to the classroom, or even getting involved in summer research projects.  What if you’ve never participated in science outreach before?  It is conceivable, maybe even likely, that this is not in the comfort zone of many scientists. In addition, teachers may not know where to find research opportunities that could benefit their classrooms, or feel comfortable contacting local scientists.  Thankfully, professional organizations like the American Physiological Society (APS) can help.  APS has great resources for physiologists on how to conduct advocacy and K-12 education outreach.


Students learning about the PhUn of heart-healthy exercise. Image from

Among the K-12 outreach activities offered by APS, Physiology Understanding (PhUn) Week is the widest reaching event having taken place annually in the first week of November since 2005. The goal of PhUn Week is to foster interaction between scientists and local schools and now reaches 12000 students annually.  I have been fortunate to be involved with PhUn Week over the last several years and have organized small and large PhUn Week events.  Typically, I bring a team of scientists to a local elementary or middle school where we set up interactive, hands-on stations for the kids.  An example of a station that we might include is to build your own glomerulus (the filtering unit of the kidney).  We spend a few minutes talking about the purpose of the glomerulus and its basic anatomy.  Then, students are presented with a series of different materials from which they can use their knowledge of glomerular function and anatomy to build their own model.  When students are finished building their models, we test them to see how good they filter the “blood”.  You can view this and other activities in this Archive Collection.

The example of PhUn Week illustrates how outreach can foster collaboration between scientists and K-12 educators promote educational resource development to enhance scientific achievement, and improve the public perception of science.  Ultimately, these outreach opportunities will help reinforce the pipeline of the future scientists who will be solving the medical and technological problems of the future. For scientists who are hesitant to interact with the public, don’t underestimate the power that improved public perception of science and scientific literacy has to influence the budget priorities of the federal government.   So let’s get out there and have some PhUn!