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Community Outreach Important to WVDL Staff

WVDL Booth Is a Hit at Science Expo 2014

Recently, several WVDL staff members took their expertise outside the lab, taking part in Science Expo 2014.  One of those participants, WVDL microbiologist Beth Pfotenhauer, recounts that day below.

WVDL staff members engaging young students at Science Expo 2014.

Bright and early one Saturday in April, Dr. Cindy Bell (WVDL pathologist), Dr. Kathy Kurth (WVDL Section Chief Virology), Carol Hulland (WVDL Microbiology Supervisor), Kristin Raymond and I (WVDL microbiologists) prepared an engaging interactive booth called, Healthy Chickens-Healthy Families: Veterinary Diagnostics for Birds, to share with the public at Science Expo 2014.

Science Expo 2014 is a tremendously busy event with hundreds of families and excited kids running every which way with goopy substances in tubes and huge smiles on their faces. The enthusiasm of the many visitors to our booth reassured me that our collaborative efforts successfully engaged our audience and taught them just a bit about bird and human health.

Kids threw themselves into stuffing our yarn “RNA” Avian Influenza genome pieces into the balloons and creatively decorating their own interpretations of the Hemagglutinin and Neuraminidase binding proteins with colored sharpies (only a few popped).  Kristin was impressed by the advanced knowledge base that the middle school students had already knowing about viruses and human DNA. This made it easier to explain Avian Influenza in more depth. She also thought it was cute how a number of the younger children, when asked if they had ever been sick, replied “no.”

In the bacteriology section, the young science minds decoded Salmonella serotypes and learned premises of the “serious” strains. Some kids had very good questions. Those who had heard about Salmonella before and had backyard birds were interested to learn that not all strains of Salmonella are problematic for humans. They also were amazed at how you can use serotyping to trace back to where an infection started.

On the far end of the table in the pathology section, Jeopardy was a hit with testing the participants’ knowledge of bird-human health facts. It seemed that our wonderful Duck-Dr-Bell, satisfied many participants’ curiosities and concerns over their own or neighbors’ back yard birds. Dr. Bell noted “It was energizing to see the diversity and depth of science on campus all involved in the larger event and every one’s participation to make their science accessible.”

We had an abundance of game options, and only so much table space. But for a select number of visitors, their scientific curiosity and understanding led them to the “harder games” where brother and sister and school mates raced each other to put all the “components” of PCR together. My favorite experiences were when the parents following their kids also had enlightenment moments of “aha, you guys test for Avian Influenza that way…hmm…interesting.”

A great insight by Kristin shows the heart of successful outreach engagement. “The viral particle balloon activity was easily modified depending on the age and understanding of the student. I really enjoyed asking questions to determine where approximately the student was at, and then attempt to modify my explanation to help them get something out of it.”

I believe we all made great educational moments for these kids and would characterize our outreach event as a success. We made the public aware of our role as diagnosticians in Wisconsin and on campus, and gave kids an interesting spark into the world of avian microbes and bird health precautions. Based on the number of balloons we went through, over 120 kids (plus their parents) visited our station and seemed to enjoy themselves immensely.