IU graduate students share passion for science and conversation with ‘ScIU’

A committed team of graduate students from across the sciences at IU are banding together to provide a glimpse inside the world of Bloomington’s research labs through a new effort that seeks inform, entertain and spark conversations about science.

ScIU: Conversations in Science,” which officially launches Aug. 22, is a new blog that seeks to foster discussion and awareness about science across the university and the community.

ScIU students

Among the writers and editors of ScIU are Lana Ruck, Ed Basom, Nichole Nagoette, Victoria Kohout, Noah Zarr, Daniel Bullock and Benjamin Draper (left to right, back row) and Maria Tiongco, Amrita Bhattacharya, Josey Topolski, Mark Juers, Anna Jessee, Clara Boothby and Fabio Mendes (left to right, front row). Photo by Mike Jackson.

“We’re taking the time to do this because we love the discovery, the questions and the excitement of science – of trying to work and understand, and to build upon the knowledge of those who came before us,” said Briana K. Whitaker, a graduate student in the IU College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology and a member of the blog’s editorial team. “With ScIU, we’re hoping to foster conversations between scientists and non-scientists and to start a dialogue about IU science that helps connect different people on and around campus.”

The graduate student editors and writers at ScIU represent a wide swath of science departments at IU Bloomington, all of whom have been collaborating on the project since last spring. Together, they’ve brainstormed topics, discussed the challenges of science writing and worked to raise excitement about the blog among their peers and research mentors.

The project was originally proposed and remains supported by the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Research Office and Office of Science Outreach, whose mission includes the promotion of diversity, awareness and accessibility of science to everyone.

“This project is all about public engagement with the sciences and focusing a two-way dialogue that not only communicates IU’s cutting-edge research to the public but is responsive to the public about what they need from science to make informed decisions in their lives,” said Jo Anne Tracy, director of the Office of Science Outreach and assistant dean for research in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“When we put out the call, our graduate students showed up with not only the same expectations, but also a highly nuanced understanding about how to make it work. I can’t say enough about how impressed I am with their enthusiasm and work ethic,” she added.

The blog’s target audience is everyone from faculty and staff to postdoctoral researchers, graduate students and undergrads who may be considering careers in science – as well as IU parents, nonscientists and other members of the public. The blog’s mission statement asserts that “scientists have an active role to play in communities” and that “open communication about science is everyone’s responsibility.”

The first post to kick off the blog will be a thoughtful meditation upon the larger purpose of science, written by Fábio Mendes, a graduate student in the lab of Matthew Hahn, professor of biology and informatics. Mendes’ entry explores the many advances that science has brought humanity — medical, technological, societal — as well as the importance of basic science and reward in pursuing answers for their own sake.

ScIU homepage

The ScIU homepage prior to “launch” on Aug. 22.

Other entries coming right out the gate will explore such subjects as “superhybrids,” or those special species that demonstrate how the “Tree of Life” is actually a tangled shrub; the “secret life of fungus” as revealed through an analysis of switchgrass; and how an on-campus language lab is working to address the many challenges faced by bilingual language speakers in over-the-phone conversations.

Of course, Whitaker notes that blogging is a big commitment, especially for busy graduate students. So she and her fellow students have developed a deep stable of contributing writers, not to mention a highly involved team of editors.

The editorial team for ScIU includes Whitaker; Maria Tiongco of the Department of Astronomy; Ed Basom, Benjamin Draper and Josey Topolski of the Department of Chemistry; Clara Boothby of the Department of English; Anna Jessee of the Department of Geological Sciences; Emily Byers of the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences; and Rachel Skipper and Noah Zarr of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. The blog’s writers and editors include graduate students in the School of Informatics and Computing and the College of Arts and Sciences’ departments of Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Psychological and Brain Sciences, and Speech and Hearing Sciences.

Additional editorial support is provided by Katie Van Loo, a recent Ph.D. graduate of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, and Elizabeth Rosdeitcher, science writer in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

To check out the blog and join the conversation, visit the ScIU webpage.

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