Lesa Beamer, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, is accustomed to teaching students about science using powerful microscopes, not pipe cleaners. But when she was given the opportunity to teach third-grade students at Lee Elementary about viruses, she knew she wanted to integrate her science lesson with the school’s art curriculum.
Beamer has a personal connection to Lee Elementary because her daughter is a student there. When a teacher approached her about helping with the third-grade health and disease unit, she jumped at the opportunity. An important part of research is translating scientific theory and sharing findings with the general public. Education plays a crucial role in this, but broader-impact educational efforts are often focused on older students due to the complex nature of the subject matter. Beamer wanted to help young students get excited about science, and she knew that Lee Elementary was a great fit because of its integrated arts curriculum.
During the third-grade health and disease unit, Beamer taught the students about common viruses like the flu virus. In order to make the lesson interactive, she let the students hold models of viruses and showed them how germs are transferred using a special glow powder and UV lights. The students were amazed to see how swiftly and easily germs can be transferred.
After the lesson, the students made their own virus models out of materials like pipe cleaners, cotton balls, and old CDs. Beamer put their finished projects on display in the Bond Life Science Center. She hopes to bring students to the center so they can take a tour soon. “I want them to see where scientists work and feel proud that their art is on display in the hallway,” she says. “Maybe it will encourage a few students to become scientists someday.”
Beamer recently received a $500,000 award from the National Science Foundation for her research proposal, “Structural Dynamics and Domain Reorientation of a Phosphohexomutase: Long Range Effects and Catalysis.” As a part of the grant’s broader-impacts section, Beamer created the Science ARTreach program. She already had the framework for the program, thanks to her involvement with Lee Elementary. Beamer was determined to have a strong broader-impacts section in her grant, and the application process helped her formalize the concept and expand her efforts to engage elementary students with scientific research.