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  • Plant Science Communication Activities and Resources

    Posted by Jiawen Chen on August 19, 2021 at 6:45 pm

    Hi all! I was wondering if you would like to share some of the science communication activities that you have been involved with, especially ones related to your research, so we can create a collection and a space for inspiration and ideas.


    I will start off! I am a PhD candidate at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, in the UK. Our lab works on starch granule initiation, and my project focuses on the biochemical processes involved in starch granule initiation in Arabidopsis and wheat. Luckily, starch is a really fun topic for science communication, and we have organised stands at events like the Norwich Science Festival, where the public can walk around and visit different tables showcasing various topics. We usually have some demonstrations/hands on activities at our stands, and as many of the visitors are children they are usually tailored for this:

    1) iodine staining game: we lay out a range of daily objects and ask participants to drop iodine on them to see if the objects contain starch – if they do, the objects will turn a dark purple colour. Some starch containing objects will include bread, packing peanuts, biodegradable bin bags/cutlery.

    2) Home-made playdough/slime: using regular (corn)starch, we make can make our own playdough, and we dye it fun colours with food colouring. Then we use amylose-free starch (waxy starch), which has a more sticky texture, to make slime! Kids always love poking around with these.

    3) Table-top microscopes with starch samples to look at: Different plants have starches with different shapes and sizes, for instance potato starch has very large starch granules and wheat starch as a combination of bigger and smaller granules, and we have participants look at these differences. We also sometimes show them scanning electron microscopy images which look really cool.

    4) Of course oobleck (the stuff you get when mixing water and starch) is always great fun, and we sometimes have some on hand or just show a fun video like the ones where people put oobleck on speakers and watch it create cool shapes.


    Would love to hear some of your ideas! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Marcia Brady replied 10 months, 2 weeks ago 8 Members · 8 Replies
  • 8 Replies
  • Rory Burke

    August 19, 2021 at 8:17 pm

    Hi Jiawen, thanks for starting this discussion! I know one of the biggest challenges in tackling plant awareness disparity is getting people to recognize how widespread plant products are (lots of younger kids for example will not realize that bread, pasta, sugar etc are all processed forms of plants) and I think your iodine staining game is the perfect way to demonstrate that!

    My area of research in plant programmed cell death and so one of the best sci-comm methods we have is to use plant species like monstera deliciosa (swiss cheese plant) that show these processes on a macro-level. It helps that they also look cool, and nowadays plenty of people have them at home and may have wondered how they form their cool patterns. The SEM images are also a great tool, especially if you can adequately explain to people just how tiny the structures they’re looking at are.

  • Orla Sherwood

    August 19, 2021 at 9:35 pm

    Iโ€™m loving reading your outreach ideas focused on your research areas. Unfortunately, I havenโ€™t had the opportunity yet to do in person outreach associated with my project since the Covid-19 pandemic. My research is focused on the formation of aerenchyma, channels where death or separation of cells allows gaseous exchange to occur during waterlogging in species such as barley or rice, which ultimately makes plants survive! In barley, one of the species Iโ€™m looking at, the aerenchyma is so small, a microscope is needed to really get in there and see it. However, using a stand-in species such as lotus, which has prominent aerenchyma channels present in the underwater root, can be a great way to show off aerenchyma formation on a larger scale.

    Beyond my own research, in UCD, we have an evolution garden which is used to teach all ages from primary school children visiting campus to our own undergraduates how plants have evolved from being water based algae to angiosperms over millions of years.

  • Julia Baulies

    August 20, 2021 at 5:53 am

    Hi, Jiawen and all other readers! My name is Julia and I’m a PhD candidate at the National University of Rosario, Argentina.

    I haven’t participated in outreach activities with my current area of research, which is plant regeneration, but I have in past instances of my work. Back when I was an undergraduate student in the University of Buenos Aires, I collaborated in a Plant Physiology lab and a Plant Morphology lab, and for a couple of years we had stands in the annual “Biology Week” the University organized. Some of them including fresh plant materials to show the visitors (from all ages, but mostly middle schoolers and high schoolers) the different modifications and adaptations of plants, and had games (trivias, connecting modifications to environments, etc.) for them to understand what they saw. Another time we set up a hydroponics system to show we studied saline stress, controlling the concentration of salt in the water and how it affected plant growth.

    I also participated in stands from other labs, such as one from the Molecular Biology Department, in which we extracted banana DNA with common ingredients, but that is another subject.

    Since I came to Rosario to pursue my PhD, I have participated in outreach activities, but not showing my particular area of research. Now I don’t work at the University campus but in a separate Research Institute, and (back when we were able, before the pandemic) we opened the doors of the Institute to welcome visitors, including children, and guided them through the labs and facilities, where they attended short talks about each lab’s work (not all labs work with plants), and at the end they could participate in simple experiments to see how the work we do overlaps with everyday activities or phenomena.

    I hope soon we will be allowed to repeat those activities. Stay safe everyone!

  • Alan Wanke

    August 20, 2021 at 9:19 pm

    Hi all,

    looks like we are gathering a nice list of outreach activities here.

    An outreach activity which our institute has started during the pandemic is the Great British Liverwort Hunt. This initiative is a citizen science project, in which we have asked people from all around the UK to collect two different liverwort species. We have provided the participants with background information on the liverworts as well as collection kits and asked them to document their “hunts” on Twitter. With the assembled liverwort collection we intend to harness genetic variablty to address plant development as well as plant-microbe questions. Throughout the time, we feed the participants – which are basically our collaborators – with online sessions to answer their questions as well short videos about the ongoing work and methods applied in this project. What I really like about this initiative is that the general public is actually involved in a real scientific project! More information on this can be found here. Although I see that this project definitely benefits from the money and infrastructure at our institute, smaller versions of citizen science projects could be also performed in more local contexts.

  • Ankita Roy

    August 20, 2021 at 11:38 pm

    Hi Jiawen,

    Thank you for your question. I am a Ph.D. candidate in plant biology at the University of Georgia. I am very passionate about science communication and outreach. I have been a content creator for a local science magazine, ‘Athens Science Observer’ for the last 3 years. Last year, I served as the outreach officer for ‘Women in Science @UGA’, another non-profit organization. I organized a panel discussion with UGA graduate students (all female) for the science club at a high school in Athens. I was also invited as a panelist by the students of Duquesne University to talk about my experiences of being a woman in STEM. I hope to continue to do more such events not just in graduate school but also later wherever my career takes me.


  • Jiawen Chen

    September 1, 2021 at 1:38 pm

    Thanks for all your replies everyone, I’m loving reading about the variety of activities you do! ๐Ÿ™‚


    September 6, 2021 at 7:56 am

    Hi Jiawen and other readers. First of all, it’s a great initiative taken by you to make a list of outreach activities as it will provide new ideas to us, how we can promote such activities.

    My name is Prakshi and I am a Ph.D. student at the National Institute of Plant Genome Research, India. Every year our Institute organizes Science Open Day to make everyone aware, especially school students, of the kind of research community is doing and what the purpose is. All labs display their work through posters, presentations, and 3D models in a simplified version so that a person from a non-scientific background can also understand it. Working of certain instruments is also demonstrated so that they can experience what a researcher is doing, and how it is different from the textbooks. It is really a good experience for us to see students taking part in such activities enthusiastically, and I think it is imperative to organize such activities to make people aware about the science.

    Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Marcia Brady

    April 20, 2023 at 8:05 am

    Microbiome sequencing is useful to characterize complex food microbial communities and uncover characteristics about the associated microbial content. 16S amplicon sequencing (microbial diversity), Metagenomics (microbial community) and metatranscriptomics approaches will surely advance our understanding of how to effectively use the invaluable microbial resources to improve food quality and safety.

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