Opportunity to Engage: Biophysics Week 2017


You are scientist. It is your job to be an expert in what you study, to know and understand the tiniest details of your subject matter. You work with others in your field, and teach/mentor students and postdocs with some background related to your work.  You publish your work in specialized publications so that scientists with similar backgrounds and knowledge of your specialized vocabulary understand what you do. But when was the last time you explained your work to someone outside of your very specific field?  Or talked about biophysics and all it encompasses in general?

The second annual Biophysics Week, March 6-10, 2017, is an opportunity to do just that. The Biophysical Society will be hosting a series of events, including webinars on topics ranging from mentoring to getting a biophysics paper published,  and a Congressional briefing.  Lesson plans and profiles of women in biophysics will be released.  Cell Press will create a picture show, illustrating the beauty unveiled by biophysics research.

But to really reach people, the Society needs you to get involved.

We encourage you to plan an educational outreach event , such as a seminar, webinar, information session, lab tour, open house, or other activity that allows you to share what you and your colleagues do with others. The Biophysical Society will advertise your event on its website, in member communications, and through  social media.

And you will have taken your science out of the lab and engaged.  Maybe the effort will result in a student deciding to take a biophysics class, or find a biophysics lab to work in.  Maybe it will introduce a high school student to the term biophysics and teach him to not be intimidated by it. Or maybe your efforts will result in a non scientist developing an appreciation of basic research.  All are important outcomes.  And they will only happen when we all  engage.

Plan your event and register it here.

Stay up-to-date on Biophysics Week 2017 here.


Neurons, Brains, and Biophysics at the U.S.’s largest science fair

15,500 pipe cleaners.

160 showings of The Human Brain:  Images to Atoms

6000 individuals at the BPS exhibit booth.


BPS Council member Bob Nakamoto, University of Virginia, helps elementary school students with their neuron models.

In a nutshell, these numbers wrap of the Biophysical Society’s participation in the 4th Annual USA Science and Engineering Festival held in Washington, DC, April 15-17, 2016.

In three short days, Biophysical staff and member volunteers gave over 6000 individuals a glimpse of the power and beauty of biophysics research through a short planetarium style movie showcasing images of neurons and proteins in the brain, as well as a hands on activity– making neuron models out of pipe cleaners.  Pretty amazing numbers considering the Society’s booth was one of over 1000 exhibitors at the Festival.

With a booth at the entrance of one of the exhibit floors (Yes, there was more than one at the festival!), the Biophysical Society’s exhibit was bumping throughout the entire event.  On Friday, school groups made up the majority of attendees, while on the weekend, the attendees were primarily families.  An estimated 345,000 people attended the free event, and it was very heartening to see the interest in science from the diverse crowd.

The Society would like to thank its member volunteers for showing up, being amazing educators, and sharing their passion for science with the next generation.  The Society would  also like to thank its partners in bringing the Dome to the event:  Wah Chiu and Matt Doherty, from Baylor College of Medicine, and the Houston Museum of Science for the use of their equipment.

Want to make a neuron model out of pipe cleaners at home or at a local outreach event?  Here are the instructions on How To Make a Neuron Model.



Biophysical Society Summer Research Program: A Novel Internship for the Science-Addicted

My name is Manuel Castro, I am a rising senior at Arizona State University, and my major is Biochemistry with a focus in medicinal chemistry. From a relatively young age, I knew that my love of science was considerably broad. I enjoy the fields of chemistry, biology, and physics; through undergraduate lab reseCastro,Manuel headshotarch opportunities, I became more familiar with the interdisciplinary concept of biophysics, and subsequently, the breadth and depth associated with this area of study. When my lab mentor told me about the Biophysical Society Summer Research Program, I enthusiastically applied.

At Arizona State, I work in an NMR lab that focuses on characterizing the structure and function of membrane proteins. Under Dr. Wade Van Horn, my work in his lab has helped direct me towards achieving a career within the large realm of biophysics; namely, structural biology. Upon receiving my acceptance letter to the BPS Summer Program, I began looking into various professors at UNC Chapel Hill that complemented my interests. I quickly found Dr. Matt Redinbo, a professor whose lab also focuses in the structural and chemical biology of proteins involved in human disease, but with X-ray diffraction instead.

Coming from an NMR lab, I entered Dr. Redinbo’s crystallography lab with the intention of exploring the structural biology spectrum more broadly. I really wanted to learn X-ray crystallography first hand to help me decide this coming year where to focus my applications for graduate school programs. I expected my work in Dr. Redinbo’s lab would be very general, including making buffers, cleaning dishes, etc. To my pleasant surprise, the same day I met Dr. Redinbo in person, he already had me setting up crystal trays. Within a few more weeks into the BPS course, I was shadowing graduate students using the x-ray source, which I consider my favorite part of the summer course thus far. In addition to the research, I have learned a lot about scientific communication. We give presentations which help train us for graduate-level coursework by having us present on what their research is about and the direction it is headed.

The program also offers classes that introduce important topics of physical chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology and biophysics. For those who have taken those classes, the course serves as a wonderful review; for those that have not, it is a fantastic introduction to central themes of biophysical studies. These are formal courses with important feedback such graded assignments and quizzes; however, the courses are not for credit. This promotes a comfortable learning environment for students of all levels of education and disciplines.

Overall, I think that this summer has been one of the best of my life so far. The BPS Summer Program allowed me to travel across the country and make new friends from various fields and interests. I would strongly suggest this internship to anyone who is passionate about science, and I have no regrets when I reflect upon my stay at UNC Chapel Hill.

Summertime Science: Biophysical Course in Chapel Hill Is Underway

2015 Biophysical Society Summer Course Class

It is summer time, and in the southern part of heaven that means one thing: a new group of young, bright, and talented undergraduates have arrived at UNC-Chapel Hill to participate in the Biophysical Society’s Summer Program in Biophysics. I am Mike Jarstfer, Director of the Summer Program, and it is my pleasure to introduce this years participants. This year we welcome an excellent cohort of students from as far away as California and as near as Durham, NC. The 13 students participating in the program will face new challenges in the lab and classroom, develop professional skills associated with post graduate education, and have fun!  The students have matched with labs in Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering,  Physics, Biology, Pharmacy, and Pharmacology!  So the breadth of their geographic origins is matched by the scientific interests of this excellent group. In addition to hard work in the laboratory, classroom, professional development exercises, and seminar series, the students will also have some fun.

The group will attend a baseball game at the famous Durham Bull’s stadium (the same one in the movie Bull Durham!) and take a weekend to visit a beautiful North Carolina beach. Midway through the summer, the students are also looking forward to meeting summer course alumni during our reunion weekend and developing long-lasting networks critical for success. These relationships will be further nurtured at the annual Biophysical Society Annual Meeting where we always host a dinner for the program alumni in attendance.

Everyone at UNC is excited to be working with this great group and I personally am looking forward to developing lifelong connections with each of them.

-Mike Jarstfer, Biophysical Society Summer Course Director

Wrap Up & Some Thoughts On Students

With the #BPS15 nearly complete, I would like to share my observations about the meeting, and the students particularly.
As someone who has put on some modestly sized events myself, I have quite a bit of respect for executing one of this scale and quality. There are always bumps and glitches to be found at any event if one looks hard enough, but I can truly say that this event was one of the smoothest I’ve attended in quite some time. We were able to set up and break down our exhibits in record time and the staff was very helpful as well. I wish they all went this smoothly.
What about our exhibition time? One of the things I have noticed as a repeat exhibitor, is the number of academic and student attendees. Some previous exhibit “neighbors” adjoining our booth space had even expressed mild concern at this (?). I believe this is a strength of this meeting!
Our company, founded with academic roots by a university professor over three decades ago, had always strongly embodied those values. Yet I believe that interacting with potential future customers is not only good business, but imperative from an educational, strategic, and demographic standpoint.
That said, it was heartening to hear discussions and explanations of peptide science to these academic.s That, along with the many leads our company gathered during the course of the meeting, combined with the nice interactions with new and old friends, made for a highly successful visit to #bps15! Thanks for reading and see you next time – Bob

Free Resources for Improved Science Education

I attended a session today that is near and dear to my heart. The session was titled US Science Education in a Global Context and it was a nice presentation on the shortcomings and clear consequences of how we educate future scientists and the general public about science in this country.

Now this might be just my personal opinion, but I feel like there tends to be a stigma associated with spending time on the instructional aspect of an academic position. Our primary objective is typically portrayed as being innovative in the lab and spending as little time as possible in the classroom unless we work at a community college or primarily undergraduate institution. I find that to be a gross misconception of our purpose, and essentially our duty, as scientists. Our objective should not just be to make new discoveries, but to also prepare the next generation to continue where we leave off. We cannot possibly hope to accomplish those goals if we stay the course and propagate the use of ineffective teaching techniques. A common argument against altering our typical teaching styles is the notion that we all survived the current educational system, so there’s no excuse for the next generation. That’s fine if we consider STEM education to be reserved for the select few that become the movers and shakers of their field. Think about this for a second, though: how many of those elite critical thinkers leave the lab and enter politics? How many of those highly educated scientists become involved in making decisions about budget distributions to federal organizations that provide grant money for science research? If you answered “basically none” to either of those questions, then you already know there is a desperate need for improved science education in the United States for everyone.

This session on education showcased the perspective of three panelists with varied backgrounds: a former President of the National Academy of Sciences, a representative of a non-profit organization focused on improving national K-12 science education standards (Achieve), and someone heavily involved in how the NSF strives to improve undergraduate education. All three were in agreement that the way we go about educating students in the STEM disciplines at all  levels fails on multiple fronts, two of which are that 1) students do not recognize that science is an interdisciplinary craft that cannot be comprehended through memorization and 2) students are not trained to navigate how science is presented in their textbook or the literature, which leads to disinterest and misguided understandings. Those two follies arise from an ineffective communication of science, which falls on us (the educators) to strive to correct.

There are a number of free educational resources that the panelists promoted, which I would like to provide for you here. Despite my interest in science education, I was actually unaware of these and am very excited to dive in! I hope you find some of these resources useful in your own educational endeavors.

Science in the Classroom is provided by AAAS and is a resource for educators interested in effective ways of teaching science literacy. On this website, you will find a collection of annotated publications that are geared to either the high school or college level. This provides instructors with a framework for guiding their students through dissecting the scientific literature.

This is another resource provided by AAAS and it’s a collection of all the freely available educational resources they have to offer. This includes a blog about education research, a collection of Science articles on education, and special editions of Science focused entirely on STEM education.

Reaching Students
This is a free PDF provided by The National Academies Press, which attempts to address the following questions: how do students best learn STEM? Are there ways of thinking that help or hurt their learning process? Which teaching strategies are most effective? And how can educators apply these strategies or suggest new approaches to their institutions? You will need to register with the site to get your free copy, but registration is free!

This website provides a digital copy of a book written by Janet English, which details her experience as a Fullbright Scholar in Finland, exploring their extremely successful educational system. She provides insightful vignettes of Finnish policy and practice that provide an excellent framework for how you might want to improve your own classroom.

I could go on and on about why I find researching effective teaching techniques to be so important to our overall success as a scientific community, but I don’t want to trip over the line and turn this blog into a sermon. I do hope that the questions I posed earlier and these free resources get you thinking, though, and steer you in the direction of the educational workshops, sessions, and posters you can find all over the Biophysical Society meeting. Consider this, my fellow biophysicists, if we do not invest in the next generation, our legacy is short-lived and our brand of innovation becomes a dying breed either by a shortage of educated scientists or an overabundance of science illiterates in public office. We are in positions to make the changes we wish to see in our educational system and it is entirely up to us if those changes ever happen.

Dear Molly Cule: Should I Bring Undergrads to the Annual Meeting?

Professor Molly Cule is delighted to receive comments on her answers and (anonymized) questions at mollycule@biophysics.org, or visit her on the BPS Blog.

Q:  I teach undergraduate students who have not yet decided on their career track. Is it worth bringing them to the Biophysical Society Annual Meeting?

Undergraduate research is often the defining experience that leads students to consider going on to obtain graduate degrees.  Incorporating undergraduate students in research efforts can be a very effective means of retaining students in the sciences and working to increase the number of underrepresented students going on to achieve advanced degrees.  Getting students involved in research as early as their freshman year can provide continuity for faculty at Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs), as well. These students ultimately provide the research expertise that increases both the number and quality of a lab’s publications, allowing faculty to maintain externally funded research.

Attending meetings and preparing posters and presentations are important experiences for undergraduates. Many faculty who incorporate undergraduates in research send them to regional, local, or undergraduate conferences as a means of allowing them to present their work in a friendly environment, gain confidence, and develop communication skills. Ultimately, the goal of attending these smaller meetings is to prepare the students so that they feel confident in presenting at a large national meeting and are better prepared to interact with experts in their field.

In previous years, I took students to the Biophysical Society Annual Meeting in their senior year, after they had presented at a smaller conference.  In recent years, I have realized that it may be more beneficial for a student to attend the Biophysical Society meeting during their junior year before they submit applications for graduate or medical school. Last year, I was grateful that my NSF funding allowed me to take three participants to the Biophysical Society Annual Meeting, a sophomore, a junior, and a postbaccalaureate researcher, the last of whom had attended the 2013 Meeting as well.  Each of these participants returned with a renewed vigor and excitement for research and biophysics.  The exposure to the broad range of topics and personal interactions really solidified their research interests and influenced their postgraduate plans.  Exposing third-year undergraduate students to a broad range of biophysics and introducing them to graduate faculty impacts their career choices.  This experience can be invaluable in their decisions on whether they should apply to graduate school and what schools might best suit their interests.

There are several events at the Annual Meeting that are especially useful for undergraduate students, including the Graduate & Postdoc Institution Fair, the Undergraduate Student Breakfast, which provides networking opportunities and career advice, and the Undergraduate Mixer and Poster Fest, a chance for undergraduates to practice their poster presentations and receive feedback before the main poster sessions.

Starting students in research very early in their undergraduate careers has multiple benefits that include retention in the sciences, advanced research experience, increased probability of publications, and preparation to attend the Biophysical Society Annual Meeting.  As a professor, I encourage you to bring your students to the Annual Meeting, especially during their junior year. As a Society, we should work on increasing the number of college juniors attending our conferences; it may help increase students’ interest in graduate school in biophysics and lead to a more diverse population in the next generation of scientists.