Past Big Ideas



BIG IDEAS @ScienceStowers is a lecture series exploring how science informs and inspires our communities. Aiming to bring cutting-edge and provocative scientific ideas in an engaging and accessible way to the greater Kansas City community, the series is designed to inspire a thirst for scientific knowledge and illustrate the roles that scientific discoveries play in our lives and communities.

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  2018
October
30

AHNA SKOP, PhD
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-MADISON

Too Creative for Science?

If people were asked to identify a creative person, most of them would describe an artist. Why not a scientist? Pablo Picasso once said: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain one once we grow up.”

At a time when fostering creativity has waned in education and standardized tests have received increasing attention, Ahna Skop, who is both a genetics professor and an artist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, refuses to accept this trend. Through her experience and work, she demonstrates that creativity is a driving force in art as well as science, and that empowering creativity in the classroom proves to be beneficial to students, particularly those who struggle with standard approaches to learning.

About the Speaker

Dr. Ahna Skop is a professor in the Department of Genetics at University of Wisconsin-Madison where she runs a lab that investigates the molecules and mechanisms that control how cells divide during embryonic development. Her team studies these fundamental aspects of cell division using the research organism C. elegans, a free-living nematode. 

Recognizing that scientists’ curiosity often originates in observing the beauty of nature, she curates art exhibits that promote the beauty of science. Her unique background inspires her to think differently and maintain an open mind as she brings together scientists and artists around the topic of creativity.

Skop has also established several successful recruitment and retention programs for underrepresented students and has served as the Chair of Equity and Diversity in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at UW-Madison. She has received the Chancellor’s Inclusive Excellence Award for her outreach and inclusive teaching efforts, and Sloan Foundation support for the STEM Diversity Network to connect students with campus advocates. She has served as a board member for SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) and was recently elected to the ASCB (American Society for Cell Biology) Minority Affairs Committee. 

A winner of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) and the 2018 ASCB Prize for Excellence in Inclusivity, she has had her science and art featured by Apple, The Scientist, USA Today, Smithsonian, PBS.org, NPR, and Science.

 
May
1

MANU PRAKASH, PhD
STANFORD UNIVERSITY

Magnifying Curiosity Worldwide

Science faces an accessibility challenge. Although information and knowledge are fast becoming available to everyone around the world, the experience of science is significantly limited.

One approach to solving this challenge is to democratize access to scientific tools. We believe this can be achieved via “frugal science” – a philosophy that inspires design, development, and deployment of ultra-affordable yet powerful scientific tools. Using some examples from my own work (Foldscope, a one-dollar origami microscope, and Paperfuge, a twenty-cent high-speed centrifuge), I will briefly describe the process of identifying challenges, designing solutions, and deploying these tools to enable open-ended scientific curiosity and inquiries in communities around the world.

By connecting the dots between science education, biodiversity mapping, environmental monitoring, and global health, I will explore the role of “simple” tools in advancing access to science and better human health in a resource-limited world.

About the Speaker

Dr. Manu Prakash is an assistant professor in the Department of Bioengineering at Stanford University where he runs a curiosity-driven research group in the field of Physical Biology. His work brings together experimental and theoretical techniques from physics, computation, and fabrication to elucidate physical design principles in biology at organismic, cellular and molecular scales.

Born in Meerut, India, Prakash earned a BTech in computer science and engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology before completing his masters and PhD at the Media Lab’s Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT. From 2008 to 2011 he was a Harvard Junior Fellow. In 2011, Prakash joined Stanford University.

Prakash has been distinguished as a Frederick E. Terman Fellow (2011-2013), a Pew Scholar (2013-2017), a top innovator under 35 by MIT Technology Review (2014), a Brilliant 10 by Popular Science (2014), a National Geographic Emerging Explorer (2015), a MacArthur Fellow (Genius Award) 2016 and Wired Magazine’s Next List (2017). His work is funded by a variety of organizations including the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation, National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, USAID, HHMI-Gates, Vodafone, and the Keck, Baxter, Gates, Woods and Coulter Foundations.