Thursday, December 17, 2009

Breaking Up Bad Bacterial Biofilms

Check off another successful Born to Do Science event! Dr. Marianna Patrauchan spoke this evening about biofilms.

We kicked off the event with the debut performance of a new song called "Super Scientist." It's all about how much patience and persistence it takes to do the type of important research Dr. Patrauchan does. By the end of the song she was beaming! Watch for the song - I'll be posting it soon.

Then we talked about cystic fibrosis and how for some reason this usually harmless bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA), forms a deadly biofilm in lung tissue of CF patients. These bacteria are very common in humans, so what is it about CF that induces them to grow?

Dr. P's hypothesis is that it has something to do with the higher concentration of calcium ions present; these ions are a signal from the body to the immune system that something is wrong (CF!). The PA bacteria pick up on it and it signals them to form a biofilm.

It takes proteins to pick up a chemical signal and act on it (see this amazing film!), so Dr. P's research involves sorting through hundreds of candidate proteins to see which ones, if knocked out, could block this process from happening. For each candidate protein a mutant PA strain with the corresponding gene knocked out is created and tested, and each test takes about six months to complete!

When I interviewed her in preparation for her talk, she hadn't yet found the magic protein, however...

In a high point of the presentation she revealed a slide showing a dramatic difference between the wild PA and a particular mutant strain growing in the presence of calcium. A positive result! Go, super scientist, go!!

Now that we've identified it, we just need to figure out how to block that protein from doing it's job, and perhaps a drug can be developed that will prevent fatal PA infections in CF patients!

Dr. P shared a stack of nutrient plates with the kids. Each kid chose four sources of bacteria (they are everywhere - pencils, fingers, crumbs from the floor, etc.) and seeded and labeled their plates. Tomorrow, they'll be able to see bacteria growth!

Hey, if any of you are reading this - send me a photo of your results and I'll post them here!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Upcoming BTDS on Biofilms!

Coming Thursday 12/17 at 6:00 PM at the Stillwater Public Library:

Breaking Up Bad Bacterial Biofilms

Scientific Espionage in the Battle Against Cystic Fibrosis

Dr. Marianna Patrauchan from the OSU microbiology department will speak about her biofilm research, which may eventually help save lives.

If you'd like to come prepared, check out the related links below. This isn't required, but it would help you ask great questions!

Artwork by Marianna Patrauchan - Who says scientists can't be artists, too?

Microbe World - Microbiology in the news

Pseudomonas_aeruginosa (The type of bacteria Dr. Patrauchan works with)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

"Ain't It Beautiful" Video

Those of you who attended the last "Born to Do Science" saw a slideshow set to the song I wrote based on Cheryl Baker's research on cultivating resistance in wheat to the Russian wheat aphid. Cheryl and I have been refining the song and the slideshow since then, and here is the final product for your enjoyment!

Oh, and you can view the lyrics, plus download the song for free for a limited time from my songbook - click here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Science of Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

One of my favorite blogs is called Science For Raising Happy Kids, by Christine Carter, Ph.D. She offers parenting advice based on actual scientific research!

One of Christine's recurring themes is gratitude. Practicing gratitude actually makes you a happier person. Last summer, inspired by her teachings, the Harper family instituted a new tradition. When we sit down to dinner together we hold hands and go round the circle twice, each telling something for which we are grateful. It's simple, but I do think it's had a positive effect. Christine offers more ideas for stretching the gratitude muscle on her most recent post.

Anyhow, I thought I'd take the opportunity, this being Thanksgiving, to show a little gratitude here on the Born to Do Science blog. I'd like to thank...
  • My wife Lisa, for her support of this project which takes up lots of time and brings us no income, at least not yet.
  • Sue Busch and the Stillwater Public Library for hosting this season's events and providing the publicity.
  • All the parents for bringing their kids to the events.
  • All the kids for showing up, having fun, and asking lots of good questions.
  • All the other folks who have supported, encouraged, and promoted the idea.
  • And of course, my guest scientists, who take time out from their busy schedules to prepare and share their research with my audiences, but mostly I want to thank them for the incredible work they do growing our body of scientific knowledge, which improves and enriches all our lives!!
Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Roundy Round Video

Check out this amazing fan-made video of my song, "Roundy Round"!

Here's the story behind it, from my friend Laurie: "I've been volunteering at my daughter's school, teaching science lessons. I want to expose her classmates to "Roundy Round," and I mentioned it to my husband, and lamented that I didn't have anything to show them while they are listening to it. So, my talented husband made a video with all sorts of video clips of planets and things going roundy round to the music. It is awesome."

I'll say! Check it out! Pass it on!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Super Wheat!

Last Thursday was our first "Born to Do Science" event at the library, and it went very well! Many thanks to Sue Busch for setting up the series with the library, to our guest scientist, Cheryl Baker, and to Lisa for taking all these great photos!

By the way, there is no photo of me performing because... Cheryl put together a slide show to go with my song, so we just played it on the projector. Stay tuned; you're going to get to see it too, soon!

Here's what the room looks like. A lot of people came in late, due to traffic from the football game (who knew?), so we ended up with a somewhat bigger crowd than you see here.

Cheryl was awesome - she brought vials of wheat for every kid to observe (and taste!), plus several kinds of live aphids and magnifying glasses to view them with!

My neighbor from down the street just happened to be growing wheat in his back yard (he's in the entomology / plant pathology department at OSU) - and he sent a bucket of it for us to look at. Here we're examining some insect damage.

Checking out the live Aphids that Cheryl brought! Can you tell the different species apart?

Amazing Lisa took this photo through a magnifying glass. The green oval shapes are aphids. The little ones are babies. They are born live, and come out as miniature copies (clones) of their mamas.

Here's Cheryl, explaining...

Cheryl also brought these little sprigs of wheat to show the difference between the resistant variety and the vulnerable variety, when infested with Russian wheat aphids. The ones in the photos look pretty healthy, but the non-resistant wheat was obviously not happy at all.

Don't forget, our next event is December 17, at the Stillwater Public Library at 6:00 PM. I hope to see you there!!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cultivating Super Wheat

As our first "Born to Do Science" event of the season approaches, I'm getting very excited!

I have a new song ready to share. Then our guest geneticist, Cheryl Baker and I will ask the question, what can you do when Russian wheat aphids attack your crops? We'll explore the process of creating "super wheat" that can resist the aphids' attack. There will be wheat and aphids on hand to examine.

The program is Thursday, Nov. 19, at 6:00 PM at the Stillwater Public Library. Children in 3rd-5th grade are invited, along with their parents. Please call ahead to RSVP: (405) 372 3633

If you'd like to get a leg up on understanding the science, see the links provided below!

This clearly written article provides some really great background information for our topic!

Check out the lab where Cheryl works!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Press Release and Flyer


Nov. 5, 2009

Contact: Sherry Fletcher, Director of Marketing and Public Relations

Phone: 405.742.8362



Contact: Stacy DeLano, Stillwater Public Library

Phone: 405-372-3633 x124



'Born to do Science': Stillwater Public Library and local entertainer launch science series for kids; Program features working scientists and fun hand-on activities; first program is slated for Nov. 19

(STILLWATER, OKLA. / Nov. 5, 2009) –– The Stillwater Public Library and Monty Harper, a local family entertainer and science enthusiast, are pleased to announce a fun, new program called "Born to Do Science" for area children.

This monthly program, intended for third through fifth graders, allows kids to speak directly with working scientists and to see first-hand how the process of science works.

"My goal is to give kids a chance to talk to real working scientists about their research," said Harper. "I want kids to come away feeling that they talked to a scientist who's doing important work and I want them to picture themselves doing similar work in their own lives."

The series will be presented on the third Thursday of each month, except March, at 6 p.m. in Room 119 and will include interactive presentations by local scientists, fun and wacky science songs by Harper, and hands-on activities.

"These programs are more interactive than just listening to a talk or presentation," said Harper. "The audience has an important roll to play."

The first program is "Cultivating Super Wheat" on Thursday, Nov. 19 and features geneticist Cheryl Baker, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Baker will explain how her groundbreaking research on wheat varieties led to their natural resistance to pests such as Russian aphids.

The series continues on Thursday, Dec. 17 with Dr. Marianna Patrauchan, OSU assistant professor in microbiology and molecular genetics. Patrauchan will present "Breaking Up Bad Bacterial Biofilms" and speak about her research on biofilm, a group of microorganisms surrounded by the slime they secrete. She will also explain how her research on these slippery slime cities may one day lead to a cure for cystic fibrosis.

Additional programs will be scheduled for 2010.

Registration for each program in "Born to Do Science" series is required. The registration deadline is one week prior to each program. Participants are limited to third through fifth graders and their families. Parents are asked to make separate child care arrangements for family members in second grade or younger.

For more information, visit the library's web site at, contact the library Help Desk at 405-372-3633 or email or visit

The Stillwater Public Library is located at 1107 S. Duck St. (the corner of Duck and 12th Ave.). Library hours are Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. This event is co-sponsored by KOSU.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Upcoming Events!

Great news - the new season of "Born to Do Science" is soon to be underway! Our meetings will take place at the Stillwater Public Library, and will be promoted to 3rd-5th grade kids and their parents. Six events are scheduled and speakers are set for the first two. Titles and background information are coming soon.

Please mark your calendar! I hope to see you there!

Born to Do Science Schedule

Thursday November 19, 2009
Cheryl Baker

Thursday December 17, 2009
Marianna Patrauchan

Thursday January 21, 2010

Thursday February 18

Thursday April 15

Thursday May 13

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Please Help Launch the Second Season

I'm ready to start setting up a second season of science cafés here in Stillwater for the 09/10 school year! The "Born to Do Science" Café allows kids to speak directly with working scientists, to see first hand how the process of science allows us to learn new things about the world.

Would you like to help? I'm looking for two kinds of volunteers:

Of course I need scientists! I'm looking for folks who are currently doing research, good at speaking in public, and willing to try (with lots of help from me) to explain their work to kids and families. The commitment involves one meeting with me, perhaps some follow-up questions by email, preparation of visuals and/or hands-on materials, and a one hour or so evening presentation.

This year I'd also like to start a support group. For this I'm looking for folks (adults and/or kids) who love the idea of the science café and want to help make it happen. We'll meet a few times either online and/or in person to help plan, publicize, and pull off the events.

Please write back to me if you're interested in helping out in either way. Put "Speaker" or "Support Group" in your subject and I'll get back to you with more details.

Please also pass this message on to anyone else you think might be interested. Thanks!!


The cafés will happen on weeknights, most likely Thursdays, once a month starting in October. I'll write soon with more specific dates and times so you can mark your calendar. If you want to be involved and you have strong preferences about the scheduling, please let me know.