‘Portal To the Public’ brings Baylor research to life at Mayborn Museum
Over the summer, Dr. Fan Zhang, PhD ’16, a post-doctoral fellow in Baylor’s environmental science program, prepared for an important speech highlighting the usefulness of her research to a very demanding audience. It was vital that she communicate her work on nanoparticles in a way that was accessible and interesting; if she lost the listeners, she might never get them back.
In the end, the presentation by Zhang and third-year doctoral student Grace Aquino, BS ’14, went off without a hitch. And that demanding audience — a group of young children visiting Baylor’s Mayborn Museum — was enthralled as they learned more about how the endothelial cells of the lung serve as a barrier between the air we breathe and our blood.
The presentation was part of “Portal to the Public,” a program found at the Mayborn Museum and 50+ other science centers, museums, zoos and universities that introduces researchers to members of the communities they serve, and helps make science more accessible to children (and adults, too). In their workshops, scientists use visual aids and play items, like Play-Doh, to help make complex ideas easier to understand. For instance, Zhang and Aquino used a colander, rice and clay to make their demonstration come to life.
Museum visitors aren’t the only ones who benefit from Portal to the Public; the program also helps professors learn to make their research more widely accessible. Describing the impact and importance of research to people outside the scientific community can be tricky for even the best researchers. Portal to the Public bridges that gap through training that helps researchers communicate why their research matters, and helps them help people form a better understanding of it.
Mayborn’s Portal to the Public programs have already brought in Baylor professors to cover such topics as water quality and brain awareness, and more demonstrations are being planned. And who knows? Perhaps one of the students in the audience will one day be explaining their own research.
Sic ’em, Baylor Portal to the Public!