Grants Help Chapters with Educational Projects

June 17, 2019

MinION sequencerA group of high school science teachers spent two days recently in Adirondack State Park in upstate New York. They were taking a crash course in the latest DNA sequencing technology. They collected insects and learned how to isolate the samples’ DNA to carry out DNA sequencing and bioinformatics analyses to identify species. Undergraduate students from State University of New York at Plattsburgh used the insect samples later to learn about DNA sampling. 

Afterward, the teachers said they could better educate their biology students about how the technology works and the science behind it. Word spread, and more teachers have already filled enrollment in a similar workshop planned for August. 

The scientists running the program are members of the State University College at Plattsburgh Sigma Xi Chapter. They purchased their DNA sequencing equipment with the help of a $2,000 Science, Math, and Engineering Education (SMEE) Grant from Sigma Xi. SMEE grants help Sigma Xi chapters create innovative educational programs. 

“We are looking at possible means to purchase more portable technology so we can expand this program with our own students as well as with our outreach,” said Nancy Elwess, the chapter secretary. 

Student Pizza Lunch The Southern Illinois University-Carbondale Sigma Xi Chapter used their $2,000 SMEE Grant to combine research and teaching efforts. They organized a series of events about big data in research during the 2018–2019 school year, featuring five speakers who discussed developing or using tools for handling large amounts of data. The speakers led hands-on workshops, shared pizza lunches with students and faculty, visited with faculty, and held seminars. Approximately 650 people participated in the events. 

True to Sigma Xi’s interdisciplinary nature, the series brought together faculty and students from across a variety of subjects—from plant biology to mathematics and statistics to computer science. Library scientists who deal with archive challenges, local information technology personnel for a regional healthcare organization, and environmental health experts were also interested. 

“Some students who attended the workshops were surprised at how data analytics could improve their research and how big data could revolutionize their approaches to specific problems,” the chapter’s officers reported. “The SMEE program has kick-started many ideas for additional interdisciplinary work on big data.”

Chapter officers led a team that submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation’s Research Trainee­ship program, which encourages bold models of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduate education training. A second supporting proposal was for an infrastructure update and to bring big data analysis to the Discovery Partner Institute (DPI), which is working to support the Illinois economy through interdisciplinary partnerships with the university and otherorganizations. The DPI proposal was strongly encouraged for further development.

Photo captions

Top photo: Workshops in New York teach high school science teachers and undergraduate students about DNA sequencing technology.

Bottom photo: Students at Southern Illinois University learn about big data in research.


More About Sigma Xi: Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society is the world’s largest multidisciplinary honor society for scientists and engineers. Its mission is to enhance the health of the research enterprise, foster integrity in science and engineering, and promote the public understanding of science for the purpose of improving the human condition. Sigma Xi chapters can be found at colleges and universities, government laboratories, and industry research centers around the world. More than 200 Nobel Prize winners have been members. The Society is based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. www.sigmaxi.org. On Twitter: @SigmaXiSociety

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