~In memory of Dr. Oliver Smithies (June 23, 1925 - January 10, 2017)~

Dr. Smithies spending time with high school student attendees at the 2016 GEMS Spring meeting

Communicating Our Science: 

Outreach to the Public and Future Scientists

Contributed by President-Elect and Program Chair, Brian Chorely, Ph.D., USEPA

The GEMS Spring Meeting took place on April 19, 2016, and was a resounding success! GEMS invited professional science communicators and basic science researchers to discuss their outreach efforts and to encourage GEMS members to become more involved in science outreach. In addition, we invited local high school students to present their projects and to interact with scientists to learn more about our careers and to learn about opportunities that are available to them.

Below are highlights from the event:

  • Nobel laureate, Dr. Oliver Smithies, gave the keynote lecture, "Where Do Ideas Come From?".  This inspirational talk took the members, scientists, and students in the room through the journey of a successful and rewarding scientific career, and the impact it had on science. Perseverance, past experiences, mentorship and collaboration, passion, and sometimes luck played important parts in Dr. Smithies’ career. At 90 years old, Dr. Smithies still works in the lab, underscoring that science is not a job for him, but something he immensely enjoys.

Photo courtesy of Steven McCaw, Image Associates, Inc.
  • A poster session was held to highlight student's school and research projects.  It gave an opportunity for students to interact with scientists and to discuss their work and career aspirations.
    • During the poster session, several representatives from various outreach programs were available to discuss opportunities for students and scientists. Please see the GEMS resource page for high school students for information on regional and national high school summer programs in STEM fields.
  • Dr. Michael Shelby gave a fond tribute for Dr. Elizabeth S. Von Halle, who passed away last year.  She was an early and very active GEMS members for several decades.
  • During the afternoon, two sessions were held, one oriented towards students and one oriented towards regular GEMS attendees:
    • During the membership session, Dr. Rebecca Fry, an Associate Professor at the UNC School of Environmental Sciences & Engineering, spoke on how she communicated her research on arsenic exposure, a highly relevant and immediate topic of public health concern around the world and in North Carolina, to other scientists, state and local governments, and community members.
    • Also as part of the membership session, Dr. Todd Boyette, Director of the UNC Morehead Planetarium and co-Founder of the statewide NC Science Festival, gave an interactive session on how and why we communicate our science.  Dr. Boyette gave a wonderfully positive evidence that the public loves science!
    • During the student session, Dr. Holly MenningerDirector of Public Science at NC State University, spoke to high school students and teachers about her career and the various twists and turns it took before she found a passion in science communication. 
    • Kal Gunasingha, a medical student at Duke University and research fellow at the NIEHS, gave a student's perspective on science careers and options that are available.
    • Rounding out the student session, Dr. George Woodall, EPA toxicologist and GEMS Board of Directors member, gave students and teachers a bird's eye view of a toxicologist's job.  His perspective conveyed what many GEMS scientists do and how we apply our science.

This meeting underscored the importance and immense need of conveying our science outside of our peer network.  As a Society, GEMS will strive to be a part of future outreach efforts to benefit both our membership and the public as a whole.

Read more about the 2016 Spring Meeting in this NIEHS Environmental Factor article:


Spring Meeting Agenda

8:00-8:45 Registration

8:45-9:00 Welcome

Stephanie L. Smith-Roe, Ph.D., GEMS President, DNTP/NIEHS

Brian Chorley, Ph.D., GEMS President-Elect, US EPA

9:00-10:00     Where Do Ideas Come From?                                                                                                                                         Oliver Smithies, Ph.D., Nobel laureate, Weatherspoon Eminent Distinguished Professor,       Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

10:00-10:15   Q & A Session with Dr. Smithies and Students

10:00-11:30 Poster Session (snacks and beverages provided)

10:15 – 11:00 Students present at posters

10:15 – 11:30 Outreach representatives at posters

11:30-11:45 A Tribute for Elizabeth S. Von Halle, Ph.D.

                        Michael D. Shelby, Ph.D., DNTP/NIEHS (Special Volunteer)

11:45-12:00 Announcements

12:00-1:15 Lunch at EPA Cafeteria

Split Afternoon Sessions
Member Session

1:15-2:15 Building Academic-Community-Government Partnerships to Improve Public Health (Room C111-AB)   Rebecca Fry, Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Environmental Sciences & Engineering, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

2:15-3:15        A Broader Impact: Extending Your Work Beyond the Lab (Room C111-AB)                               Todd Boyette, Ph.D., Director of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center and co-founder of the North Carolina Science Festival
Student Session
1:15-2:00 Adventures in Public Science: A Biologist's Journey from Lab Rat to Ring Leader (Room C111-C)  Holly Menninger, Ph.D., Director of Public Science, College of Sciences, North Carolina State University

2:00-2:45 Life and Science: The Moving Target (Room C111-C)                                   Kal Gunasingha, BS, Medical Student and Researcher, Duke University and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences 

2:45-3:15 Does Your Environment Affect Your Health?  (Room C111-C)                                          George Woodall, Ph.D., Toxicologist, National Center for Environmental Assessment, US EPA
3:15-3:30 Closing Remarks (Room C111)


GEMS would like to acknowledge the support of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund for the Annual Spring Meeting. The funding provided has allowed for students to attend the meeting and present their work.

P.O. Box 13475, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709

GEMS is incorporated as a non-profit scientific organization in the state of North Carolina  and with the federal government. 

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