Geomicrobiology Student Project: The importance of science communication

Article courtesy of the Bell Museum of Natural History.

Cara Santelli, an Associate Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences, has always been connected to museums. Before she began her career in academia, she was the Assistant Curator of Minerals and Gems at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. When she moved to Minnesota, she wanted to maintain ties to the world of museums and was hopeful for opportunities to work with one again in the future. When the opportunity to connect with the Bell Museum arose during her first year as a professor, she fostered a relationship with the museum and shared her desire to stay involved.

When Santelli found that there was a lack of opportunities for students to strengthen their verbal skills, she wanted to do her part to help provide different avenues for her students to develop their verbal communication skills. She decided to incorporate science communication in her Geomicrobiology course, the study of how microbes influence the planet past, present and future. The idea of having her students develop a project that communicated Geomicrobiology to an audience outside of academia was born.

In an expo fashion, the students developed hands-on activities and a short presentation for visitors who stopped by their interactive displays. Anticipating a captive and curious audience, Santelli knew the Bell Museum was the perfect environment for the students to implement this project. The feedback from the project was overwhelmingly positive. So much so, that Santelli wrote the project into a National Science Foundation career award, an award that helps new professors fund science that has a large and broad impact. The Bell Museum’s Amber Kastner, Public Science Events Manager, has played a role in helping students understand the importance of science communication by attending Santelli’s class as a guest speaker to share with students effective ways to share scientific knowledge.

This year, things look a little different! Due to the pandemic, Santelli and Kastner worked to adapt the project to a virtual experience through informative videos. While the format may be different, the focus and purpose of the project remain the same – helping students effectively communicate important scientific information in an approachable way for a broad audience. Students selected topics of interest to explain their topic in a creative yet clear, succinct way. We invite you to take a look and learn something new from their videos found on the Bell Museum website.