Plant BLOOME 2018 Winners Announced

ASPB established the Plant Biology Learning Objectives, Outreach Materials & Education (BLOOME) grant program (the name changed over time) with the goal to enhance public awareness and understanding of the essential roles of plants in all areas of life. Congratulations to the three 2018 ASPB Plant BLOOME recipients!

Widely Accessible Virtual Reality Exhibits and Workshops for Plant Biology Education

PI: Larry Blanton, PhD, North Carolina State University

The NC State BLOOME team is very excited about our project, “Widely Accessible Virtual Reality Exhibits and Workshops for Plant Biology Education.” Our team consists of Larry Blanton, Professor of Plant Biology and PI, who will be responsible for project oversight, content, reporting, and assessment; Colin Keenan, a recent graduate from our Master’s program, who conceived of the project and will be responsible for coding, training, and site development; and Adam Rogers, Head of the NC State Library’s Making and Innovation Studio, who will provide expert technology support and be our liaison to the broader resources of the NC State libraries. The project benefits greatly from the extensive technology available to us through the library’s virtual reality studio.

The BLOOME project arose from Colin’s non-thesis masters project, which involved 3-D scanning of bulky herbarium specimens (seeds and fruits). As Colin thought about disseminating those scans to a broader world through virtual reality (VR), he realized that broader scope VR experiences as now proposed would be even more stimulating. Our goal is to create two experiences, one smaller-scale focused on the chloroplast and the other a larger-scale “park” of a variety of exhibits. These will be freely available for on-line access on any web-browsing device, but also support the VR experience provide by HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.

In addition to creating these experiences, the team will conduct “Basics of Virtual Reality for Plant Biologists” workshops, two on the NC State campus, one at the Southern Section ASPB meeting, and one at the national ASPB meeting. These will provide an introduction to digital specimen representation and display and strategies for incorporating VR as a means to present data or develop curriculum elements. We hope to learn valuable lessons not only about the application of VR technology itself, but also concerning valid means of assessing the effectiveness of the experiences.


Closing the Gap: Engaging the Public with Citizen Science Phenology Data

PI: Jessica Savage, Ph.D., University of Minnesota in Duluth

For many people, including myself, fascination with plants began in our backyards because plants serve an important role in our understanding where we are and how the world is changing. It is for this reason that there is a growing population of the public engaged in monitoring phenology in their “backyards” and an increasing number of citizen science programs focused on compiling phenology data in online databases. Despite the importance of these connections between plant biologists and the public, many citizen science programs rely on unidirectional communication, such as collecting data for a researcher or educating about phenology.

The goal of our BLOOME project is to take the next step in this relationship and create a program where the public is involved in the scientific process from beginning to end. We want to empower citizen scientists to explore their own questions. We plan to facilitate two-way interactions in which researchers and educators provide training in plant biology and plant phenology, and citizens participate in experimental design, data collection, and exploration of their own data. Along with creating public displays and running two workshops for educators, we will design openly available curriculum for educators and the general public that will guide learners in visualizing and understanding phenology data from their local community. This is a collaborative project between Erin O’Connell, a graduate student, Ryan Hueffmeier, the Program Director at Boulder Lake Environmental Center, and Jessica Savage, an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota in Duluth.

We are excited about this project because it addresses a growing need to take citizen science to the next level, not only involving the public in data collection, but also allowing them to become the researcher. We hope this program can serve as a model for place-based learning about plant biology in other regions.


Employing the green micro-alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (“green yeast”) for K16 Biology Education

PI: Mautusi Mitra, Ph.D., University of West Georgia

Chlamydomonas reinhardtii is a unicellular micro-green alga that retains many of the features of green plants and of the common ancestor of plants and animals, although its lineage diverged from land plants over one billion years ago. It is a model for studying photosynthesis and elucidating eukaryotic flagella and basal body structure and functions. More recently, Chlamydomonas research has been developed for bioremediation purposes, generation of biofuels and has led to breakthroughs in Optogenetics. Currently, there are few teaching tools available via the Chlamydomonas Resource Center which barely scratch the surface of what could be taught using Chlamydomonas to K16 Biology students. My BLOOME project aims to develop Chlamydomonas, an under-utilized teaching tool, into a powerful popular teaching tool which will complement existing plant science teaching strategies.

The ASPB Plant BLOOME award and the support that I have received from the CRC will help me to design ten Chlamydomonas– based new, inexpensive, hands-on activities for K16 Biology education. These activities will be incorporated in Biology classes in nine schools and in two local universities in Georgia and, to teach a new upper level “green” molecular lab course at the University of West Georgia (UWG). The project will target approximately 1,250 students. Designed lab activities will be disseminated via ASPB, Plantae, CRC and my UWG research laboratory websites and at the ASPB and NABT meetings. We will share with the west Georgia community how “pond scum” is used by plant biologists, neuroscientists, medical and renewable energy researchers via the free Wolf Science Cafe events in Carrollton, GA. 90% of Biology students want to pursue careers in health-allied field and, seldom appreciate plant biology in their curriculum as they are not shown the intra- and inter-disciplinary nature of the 21st century Biological science. I am greatly appreciative of the ASPB Plant BLOOME award as it will help to make students appreciate plants and, demonstrate to them the intra- and interdisciplinary nature of Plant Biology. Above all, I am super-excited about the Plant BLOOME award as it will help to make Chlamydomonas (“green yeast”), a “rock star” to plant biology educators.

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