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Fred Hutch researchers put the fun in science

June 24, 2013

By Colleen Steelquist, Fred Hutch Science Editor

If there’s one thing that bugs Jesse Hubbard, it’s that many people know very little about science.

“Some of my friends are so scientifically illiterate,” said Hubbard, a research technician who studies the molecular aspects of cancer at Fred Hutch.

Hubbard is on a campaign to change that, and he believes it starts with getting people excited and curious about the world around them at a young age.

Jesse Hubbard

Jesse Hubbard

His mentor, Dr. Beverly Torok-Storb, is a huge proponent of science education, and she’s set up a training lab at Fred Hutch to enable hands-on learning opportunities. Hubbard served as a judge at the NWABR Student Bio Expo in May.

Recently, Hubbard gave up a Saturday to help staff a Fred Hutch booth at the Science Expo Day at the Seattle Center, part of the Seattle Science Festival. About 1,000 people dropped by throughout the day, many of them children with parents in tow.

Hubbard helped the visitors view blood cells—normal, healthy ones and ones altered by leukemia—through two microscopes.

The kids often asked why they looked different. Hubbard patiently explain the leukemia cells picked up a mutation in their DNA instructions that told them to grow out of control. One mom remarked that her sister had leukemia as a child, but it was the first time she’d seen what was actually happening in the blood. Cool science, indeed.

In another corner of the display, visitors extracted DNA from herring sperm. It’s a fun experiment that’s often done with strawberries, but herring was cheaper.

“It was nice to see people get really excited,” Hubbard said. “We need to get them hooked as young as possible and teach them it’s not nerdy to love science.

“If we can get kids thinking about it, they’ll realize how cool it can be. And maybe then they’ll take that extra biology class in high school,” he said.

Hubbard’s enthusiasm is part of a larger Fred Hutch commitment to help train the next generation of scientists. For instance, our Science Education Partnership has helped foster partnerships between research scientists and over 300 secondary school science teachers in Washington state since 1991.

Through workshops and a science mentor program, teachers learn laboratory research and current topics and techniques in biology, and scientists hone their teaching skills and learn more about how science is taught in middle and high school classrooms. Teacher training sessions take place again this summer.

Fred Hutch's Jesse Hubbard talks science at a recent event in Seattle.

Fred Hutch’s Jesse Hubbard talks science at a recent event in Seattle.

Is Hubbard ready to help at the Science Expo next year? “Absolutely,” he said. “It was really fun. I’ll do anything I can to help get kids engaged in science.”

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