Expanded Science Expeditions opens doors to UW-Madison research

March 21, 2013

by Chris Barncard

Photo: child looking into microscope

Children look into microscopes and learn about stem-cell research at a hands-on exploration station at Science Expeditions in April 2011. This year’s Science Expeditions will be April 5-7 at multiple locations on the UW-Madison campus.

Photo: Jeff Miller

Ana Garic spends her days in a University of Wisconsin–Madison lab studying a public health problem with real impact in Wisconsin communities — which is why it feels so good to invite the public onto her turf for the campus’ annual Science Expeditions open house to be held April 5-7.

“So much we hear from people, ‘Wow, I didn’t know this is what alcohol does,’” says Garic, a senior researcher in nutritional sciences whose work focuses on fetal alcohol syndrome. “And just as importantly, they say, ‘I didn’t know this is what a scientist at the university does.’”

That’s why Garic has spent each of the last 11 years organizing Science Expeditions, which will expand in 2013 to three days of lab and museum tours, hands-on exploration and — most importantly — opportunities for the curious of all ages to rub elbows and talk cutting-edge science with the UW–Madison researchers who do the work.

“As scientists we do our work and assume people understand we’re trying to do work with impact for all people,” says Garic, who has helped grow the event from several hundred people and 18 science displays to many thousands of visitors, and venues across campus. “And people see this humongous place and hear about our high rankings in research, but they don’t get to experience it. Science Expeditions is a way to bring those two groups together to learn.”

It’s the university’s responsibility to open its doors to people who are, for all intents and purposes, its benefactors, according to Tom Zinnen, a Science Expeditions organizer and outreach specialist at UW-Madison's Biotechnology Center.

“The scientists on campus compete to bring public resources to Wisconsin, and to use those resources to benefit the public,” Zinnen says. “We want them to come to campus — for free, no fees or tickets or anything required — to see what their scientists do and what is actually available for them to experience the other 362 days of the year.”

This year’s event will kick off on Friday, April 5, with the grand opening of the Wisconsin Energy Institute, 1552 University Ave., the newest research building on campus and future home of a wide array of scientists studying new ways to produce and deliver energy.

Friday’s schedule also includes talks by the aquatic scientists of UW Sea Grant, and a public viewing of the stars at the Washburn Observatory.

As in past years, activities on Saturday, April 6 are centered on the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, 330 N. Orchard St., where from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. more than 50 exploration stations spanning the breadth of science taught and advanced on campus will feature face-to-face interactions with UW–Madison researchers like Garic and hands-on introductions to their work.

More than 15 other buildings on campus will host visitors for tours and more direct contact with science — hot spots like the Geology Museum, Zoological Museum, Botany gardens, the newly remodeled Dairy Cattle Center and the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences building.

Running alongside Science Expeditions on Saturday is the Wisconsin Wellness Campaign Expo at the Southeast Recreational Facility, 715 W. Dayton St. The expo will showcase Madison businesses and organizations that promote wellness, with free activities, product samples and more.

The addition to the Sunday, April 7 Science Expeditions schedule is a public health extravaganza at the Health Sciences Learning Center, 750 Highland Ave. Accompanied by more exploration stations run by medical and biological scientists from around campus, visitors will have the opportunity to explore — and maybe even scrub in — the facilities where UW doctors and nurses learn and practice their craft.

“We will have tours of UW Hospital’s clinical simulation program,” says Micaela Sullivan-Fowler, Science Expeditions organizer and librarian at the School of Medicine and Public Health’s Ebling Library. “We can introduce people to computerized mannequins so they can see how procedures are done on them, and they may get to try some hands-on work like our staff and students get to do.”

A UW Med Flight flight nurse will be on hand to show off equipment and explain the helicopter-borne crews’ life-saving work, and Jackie Gerhardt, UW Health doctor and Wisconsin State Journal columnist, will answer visitors’ general health questions. Ebling Library staff will lead programs on finding the best health information online and tours of their exhibit, “Fallout: The Mixed Blessing of Radiation & the Public Health.”

Also open for tours, presentations and other activities are: Allen Centennial Gardens, UW Arboretum, the Ingersoll Physics Museum in Chamberlin Hall, Chazen Museum of Art, Genetics-Biotechnology Center, D.C. Smith Greenhouse, Science House, Steenbock Memorial Library, Babcock Hall Dairy Store, the Primate Center’s Learning Lobby and more.

For a full list of attractions, their hours and more specifics about Science Expeditions — like parking and the free trolley to carry visitors from one stop to the next — visit the event’s website.