Vol 11. Issue 6 / February 14, 2011

In South Florida, Science Is in Season

By Jeremy Pyle

In South Florida, the idyllic winter that locals refer to as "the season" brings a spike in both population and economic activity, but this year Palm Beach County residents have also been treated to a season of science, with two high-profile Scripps Florida outreach events held at two very different venues.

Science at the Fair

For 17 days in January, Palm Beach County's fairgrounds hosted the typical parade of prize livestock, carnival rides, and all manner of fried foods. At this year's South Florida Fair however, visitors could also learn about the world-class biomedical research taking place right in their own backyard.

Scripps Florida was invited to host a booth inside the fair's warehouse-sized Expo Center, which this year featured a science and technology theme. Joining elaborate displays from NASA, NOAA, and local universities, Scripps Florida held its own with a visually impressive exhibit showcasing the panoply of academic research and drug discovery projects under way at the Jupiter campus.

A new modular display system was designed by Education Outreach staff, consisting of stackable cubes and interchangeable panels highlighting the six areas of Scripps Florida research. The display also includes panels describing the Kellogg School of Science and Technology and K-12 education programs in Florida, as well as two rear-projection screens displaying a photographic slideshow of the campus, laboratories, and researchers.

As an added attraction, an interactive touchscreen and 14-foot-wide projection screen stood adjacent to the Scripps Florida booth, allowing visitors to explore three-dimensional images of the human brain, or view high-resolution micrographs from Scripps Research scientists and Max Planck Florida researchers, who also hosted an adjoining Expo Center booth.

On two education-focused days, hundreds of local school children toured the various science booths in the Expo Center, with stops at select organizations for short lessons on topics ranging from space exploration to agriculture. At the Scripps Florida booth, Director of Education Outreach Deborah Leach-Scampavia captivated children with a fun and interactive discussion about the extraordinary human brain and workings of the sensory system.

An Encore "CELLebration" at the Mall

Just days after closing the fair, Scripps Florida kicked off the second-annual "CELLebrate Science with Scripps Florida," a public outreach event inside The Gardens Mall inspired by the campus's grand opening extravaganza in early 2009. To mark the one-year anniversary of Scripps Florida's permanent facility, The Gardens Mall hosted the first "CELLebration" in February 2010 and the response—several thousand visitors—was overwhelming. For 2011, the Forbes Group, which owns and operates the 1.4-million-square-foot high-end shopping center, eagerly requested an encore.

This year, nearly 100 Scripps Florida volunteers—scientists and support staff alike—turned out on a beautiful Saturday morning to bring the science of Scripps Research to an estimated 4,000 South Florida residents. Five interactive science activity booths were set up throughout the mall's lower level, along with the new modular information cubes and assorted other displays. While the names of the booths were the same as last year, each station hosted new activities.

At the "Express Yourself" booth, gene expression was emphasized with a demonstration of gene chip technology and a taste activity that illustrated inherited traits that vary throughout populations. Visitors could also peer into an array of light microscopes and glimpse wildtype and mutant Drosophila (fruit flies), expressing mutations affecting eye color, wing shape, and bristle size.

Other activity booths included "ScrippsBOT," featuring robotics activities and a display on microfluidics; "Go F.I.S.H.," with transgenic fish and colorful interactives explaining how scientists use fluorescence in research; "Synthesize," the ever-popular "stink, smoke, and explode" chemistry demonstration by the institute's synthetic organic chemists; and "Energize," hosted by the institute's energy chemists and featuring a kid-friendly glove box and more fun chemistry demonstrations.

Saturday's event was preceded by a special award ceremony on Thursday honoring first- and second-place winners of Palm Beach County School District's 2010 Science and Engineering Fair. Approximately 20 middle and high school students received medals and certificates from Sidney Forbes, founding partner of The Gardens Mall, and Harry Orf, vice president of scientific operations for Scripps Florida. All of the students will compete in the State Science and Engineering Fair of Florida next month.

The students' winning projects were displayed during Saturday's event, alongside a School District booth featuring information about its biotechnology magnet and medical magnet schools.

"As the State of Florida becomes a hub for the biotech industry, it's vital that our students and their families understand the impact of biotechnology on maintaining and improving quality of life," said District K-12 Science Manager Wendy Spielman. "The Scripps Florida CELLebration made the science of biotechnology accessible to our students and the community in a fun, interactive way. I believe it also opened students' eyes to a variety of career paths and fields of study they may have never considered before. It was an outstanding event."



Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu



Designed and built at Scripps Florida, the new modular display towers feature interchangeable panels and rear-projection screens.





Mall visitors interact with the two chemistry booths at Saturday's public outreach event.