ME Bioscience Day’s virtual format inspires and educates thousands of students across the state

Throughout the week of November 16, 2020, BioME organized a 5th annual ME Bioscience Day, virtually. ME Bioscience Day is a statewide event that aims to get students excited about life science – the study of all living organisms, as well as raising awareness of the career opportunities in the life sciences sector in Maine.

The flight of talented students from Maine is exacerbated by a general public perception that “there are no jobs in Maine”. While some industries in Maine are struggling for a multitude of reasons, the bioscience industry in Maine is thriving and offers significant opportunities for Maine students and the broader workforce. The event inspires students to learn about these various fields and encourages students to pursue the profession that they find interesting.

In 2019, ME Bioscience Day reached over 3,300 students from 23 schools with 58 volunteers from 26 organizations. This year, we were able to reach even more students in rural school districts that we were unable to find volunteers for in the past. In 2020, we reached over 5,100 students from 46 schools.

How ME Bioscience Day went virtual

Traditionally, professionals volunteer to visit local middle school classrooms to talk with students about their career in science, their daily tasks, and the opportunities that are available in science based careers. A lot has changed in 2020, and due to the pandemic, each school district has different procedures, schedules and restrictions. This year, ME Bioscience Day shifted to a unique and innovative virtual format to accommodate the current circumstances. We produced three video presentations that featured scientists discussing their careers in the bioscience industry.

Scientists’ video presentations

Patrick Breeding – Founder, Marin Skincare

Part One showcased Patrick Breeding, founder of Marin Skincare, who started his own company using science. He discovered that the glycoprotein found in lobster to protects the lobster’s barrier, also protects and hydrates human skin. He formulated a skin cream using the glycoprotein from ethically sourced lobsters. It had amazing results on the skin, and promoted skin health and healing.

Chuck Lubelczyk – Vector Ecologist, Maine Medical Center Research Institute

Part Two profiled Chuck Lubelczyk, a Vector Ecologist at Maine Medical Center Research Institute. He studies vectors like ticks and mosquitoes that transmit diseases such as Lyme disease. To find vectors, he sweeps a cloth across a certain area of woods, and analyzes the vectors that he finds on the cloth. This process helps him to estimate the risk in that particular site, and he is able to give that information to the State Health Department so they know what areas of woods are at risk for vectors. Chuck loves what he does, and he encourages students to honor their passion for science. He says that there are so many niches within the field of bioscience, and believes there is one for everyone.

Tori Denis – Associate Scientist, IDEXX

Part Three featured Tori Denis. She is an Associate Scientist at IDEXX, a global life sciences and technology company based in Maine. Tori became interested in science when she was in middle school. Tori says, “In school you hear about the great scientists of our history, and sometimes you feel like you can’t get there. But, when you go to school, keep learning, and work with other people who are in the field, it gives you confidence to pursue that path.” At her job, she enjoys planning and performing experiments, while using creativity and problem solving skills. She also develops and manufactures the Snap test kits that veterinarians use to test for vector-borne diseases in dogs, cats, and other animals. Tori has two dogs of her own, so she is happy to work for a company that prioritizes pets’ health.

Genetic Traits Inventory Activity

Following the scientists’ presentations were two interactive videos for students to perform a hands-on activity. The first was a genetic traits inventory activity. Genetic traits are also known as phenotypes, which are determined by genotypes. Genotypes are formed by the combination of alleles inherited from each parent. Students examined various dominant and recessive traits, such as hair color, eye color, dimples, freckles, and earlobe attachment. By taking inventory of these traits and graphing the data, students saw how their genetic traits compared to those of their classmates.

PTC Paper Taste Test Activity

The second activity was a PTC (phenylthiocarbamide) paper taste test. Genetics influence how we taste different foods. The chemicals in certain foods and in the PTC paper can taste bitter to some, or may taste like nothing at all to others. The ability to taste PTC is dependent on your genetics; and it is a dominant trait that approximately 75% of people have.

Zoom Q&A Sessions

Presenters Patrick, Chuck, and Tori, along with scientists Dr. Kristy Townsend and Dr. Jess Davis-Knowlton, held Q&A sessions later in the week. They answered questions, gave a glimpse into their day-to-day life in their careers, and offered their personal advice to students. When asked how she became a scientist, Kristy said, “I was always curious; I wanted to know how things worked. If any of you feel like that; if you’re interested in how things work or want to know more when you learn something at school, that’s a good sign that you have the skills to be a scientist.” She continued to discuss the most important traits it takes to become a scientist, saying, “I think being determined and being curious are the two perfect ingredients for scientists.”

Although volunteers were unable to visit students in person this year, ​science teachers and students throughout Maine have been able to learn about bioscience in the state through videos, activities and Q&A sessions, both in class and virtually.

ME Bioscience Day can be the inspiration for the next generation of scientists, as bioscience is an ever-evolving field. Dr. Kristy Townsend says, “That’s the exciting part about bioscience and genetics, there are still so many big questions left to discover. I think a lot of students may think that we’ve figured it all out, but we still need to know a lot.”

ME Bioscience Day 2020 connected students with bioscience, expanded their knowledge, and raised awareness of future career opportunities.

Watch ME Bioscience Day Q&A Sessions

ME Bioscience Day 2020 Supporters

ME Bioscience Day 2020 Participating Schools

Windham Middle School (Windham)Gorham Middle School (Gorham)Mahoney Middle School (South Portland)
Memorial Middle School (South Portland)Cape Elizabeth Middle School (Cape Elizabeth)Piscataquis Community Secondary School (Guilford)
Falmouth Middle School (Falmouth)Waynflete School (Portland)Loranger Memorial Middle School (Old Orchard Beach)
Scarborough Middle School (Scarborough)Bath Middle School (Bath)Lake Region Middle School (Naples)
Greely Middle School (Cumberland)Gray-New Gloucester Middle School (Gray)Wells Junior High (Wells)
Frank H. Harrison Middle School (Yarmouth),Wiscasset Middle High School (Wiscasset)Warsaw Middle School (Pittsfield)
Greenville Consolidated School (Greenville)James F. Doughty School (Bangor)Brunswick Junior High (Brunswick)
North Yarmouth Academy (Yarmouth)Lincoln Middle School (Portland)Bonny Eagle Middle School (Buxton)
Lincolnville Central School (Lincolnville)Presque Isle Middle School (Presque Isle)Thornton Academy (Saco)
Freeport Middle School (Freeport)Stearns Junior High School (Millinocket)Lyman Moore Middle School (Portland)
Brewer Middle School (Brewer)Great Salt Bay Community School (Damariscotta)SeDoMoCha Middle School (Dover-Foxcroft)
Jordan-Small Middle School (Raymond)Molly Ockett School (Fryeburg)Noble Middle School (Berwick)
Holbrook Middle School (Holden)William S. Cohen School (Bangor)Ashland District School (Ashland)
Sacopee Valley Middle School (Hiram)C.K. Burns School (Saco)Philip W. Sugg Middle School (Lisbon)
Indian Township School (Princeton)Skowhegan Area Middle School (Skowhegan)Penobscot Community School (Penobscot)
Holy Cross School (South Portland)