Project Engage flyer

The Latham Fellows Program began in Fall 2015 with a group of twelve undergraduate students.  Over 80 students have now completed the program, engaging thousands of people through face-to-face and digital interactions.

The overarching goal of the program is to provide multiple pathways to actively participate in collaborative science outreach opportunities that engage our community in thinking about science. All fellows conduct both individual and group outreach projects. Currently, the fellows are working on outreach activities designed themselves, proposed to Latham instructors and implemented with assistance from faculty and/or staff mentors from across campus. Current fellows describe their projects below.  Past fellow projects are found in the Latham Project Archive. Additional projects are featured in our digital journal called Synthesis, as well as Stem-o-sphere, a public website that is managed by Latham Fellows.

Individual Projects

Rural communities are oftentimes neglected when it comes to science communication. This leaves individuals feeling excluded, negatively impacting their relationship with science. The aim of this project is to get more people, especially those in rural communities, to engage with science. For this project, I have created a podcast mini-series highlighting the ways that science impacts our daily lives. Episodes include How the Internet Connects Us, The Importance of Improving Water Quality, and Why the Scientific Method Isn’t Just for Scientists. In order to cater this podcast to rural communities, I have partnered with various public libraries across the state of Iowa to establish content areas of interest and ways to reach their patrons. The podcasts consist of interviews with professionals and faculty at the University of Iowa that have extensive experience in the areas of interest. These short episodes are intended to be easily digestible in order to get people excited about science and how it works without us even knowing.

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Project Author(s): Preston Johnson

Author Bio(s): Preston Johnson is a third-year student majoring in neuroscience with minors in theater and chemistry. For the last year, he has been a research assistant in Dr. Amanda McCleery's lab where they study serious mental illness, those who suffer from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Their research focuses on better understanding the neural processes that underlie these psychopathologies and creating ways in which they can improve daily functioning for these clinical populations. As a Latham fellow, Preston wants to bring everybody to the science table, especially those in rural communities, in order to show everyone the wonderful ways that science positively impacts the world. In his free time, you can find Preston performing in community theater, playing video games with his brothers, or playing pickup basketball.

STEM Loteria is a project to not only learn about cell biology terms and become familiar with them but also to raise awareness about the lack of diversity in STEM. Loteria is a traditional Mexican board game that is culturally relevant and by changing the game to scientific terms we get to educate and represent a population that is usually excluded from STEM circles, Latinx people. The goal is to address the lack of diversity and tackle it by creating a cultural game and making it STEM-related, including different identities and tackling gender and race disparities. My project aims to show how an important cultural element can be used in academic spaces to learn, increasing the representation and engagement of these marginalized communities. Lastly to highlight local organizations and efforts to tackle this disparity, and to play the game to have fun and learn.

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Project Author(s): Sofia Gomez

Author Bio(s): Sofia Gomez is a junior studying Developmental and Cell Biology along with Spanish and German as minors. She is conducting research in the Slusarski Lab within the Department of Biology. In her lab, she studies the interaction between Smarcc1a (chromatin remodeling complex) and one of the proteins coded by the gene BBS6 (stands for Bardet-Biedl Syndrome) in the hearts and eyes of zebrafish. As a Latham Fellow, she hopes to increase the engagement of historically excluded groups in STEM, groups like BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and disabled people. She enjoys reading, painting, walking, and learning new languages.

The population of senior citizens in Johnson County continues to grow, which expands the gap of health services that fit their unique needs. The numerous benefits of exercise on the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social wellbeing of older adults are well-established, however, barriers to exercise grow with chronic health conditions and reduced mobility that come with age. These barriers increased further with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, as many exercise programming options for seniors were discontinued, leading older adults to become less motivated to stay active. In partnership with health professionals and the Iowa City Senior Center, the free three-week program “Spring into Exercise” was developed in the Spring of 2022. This program aimed to improve seniors’ scientific understanding of how exercise can mitigate age-related health changes they notice in their daily lives, how to utilize available senior center equipment for adaptive strength training, and how to perform adaptive exercises at home to maintain flexibility. With these three foci, the program hopes to increase senior mobility, fall prevention, and functional independence ​in Johnson County and develop into a sustainable resource for seniors to access moving forward.

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Project Author(s): Grant Welk

Author Bio(s): Grant Welk is a junior from Ames, Iowa studying biochemistry and public health. Grant is currently an undergraduate researcher in the Spitz Lab, studying free radicals and redox stress in cancer biology. Outside of classes, Grant enjoys volunteering at UIHC, working with Exercise is Medicine, and exploring the outdoors. As a Latham fellow, Grant hopes to organize outreach projects that help the local community better access, understand, and get involved with science.

Throughout history, cultures all over the world have used plants to heal various ailments. Many of these plants are still used in traditional medicine, and the chemical components of these plants are used in modern medications. The aim of my project is to provide high school and college-aged Iowa residents with a resource that describes medicinal plants and their uses in healing. My book, Medicinal Plants of Iowa, will give information about the plants’ scientifically-proven medicinal properties, how plants are used in traditional medicine, and the chemical components that give plants their healing properties. I hope to convey this information in a way that is understandable to those who have not studied science or medicine. The purpose of my book is to increase public knowledge about the medicinal plants that grow in Iowa, and more generally, the wonders of the natural world. I also hope to increase readers’ interest in science by summarizing scientific studies in a way that is easy to understand and jargon-free. Finally, I hope that readers will see, from the refining of plant-based healing techniques in traditional medicine, that scientific techniques are used in many different settings, not just in a lab environment.

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Project Author(s): Lorena Tran

Author Bio(s): Lorena is a sophomore from Iowa City studying Cell and Developmental Biology and Arabic. She works in the Pezzulo Lab studying the effects of roundworm infection on lung function, as well as the epigenetic memory of airway cells in response to inflammation. As a Latham fellow, she would like to encourage kids from underrepresented groups to consider careers in science. She also wants to increase awareness of inequities in healthcare. In her free time, Lorena enjoys biking, swimming, birdwatching, and watching basketball.

Mental health diagnoses began as early as pre-school and the effects of mental health can extend well into adulthood. Mental health literacy has been shown to have a profound role in helping children have a better understanding of their mental wellbeing and create a toolbox of coping mechanisms early on. The aim of this project is to create toolkits surrounding elementary education on neuroscience and psychiatry topics. There are three activities integrated into this toolkit that can be used in schools and at home. These toolkits include instruction modules on mental health topics, activity sheets containing hands-on activity directions, coping mechanisms and early intervention strategies, and Iowa City mental health resources to promote. The content within the toolkits is written towards an audience of 3rd grade to 5th grade. With these toolkits, I also hope to go into after-school programs and do these activities with children. My goal is to help students gain more awareness of the science behind their mental well-being and empower them with early coping mechanisms and resources to build early habits that help preserve their mental health.

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Project Author(s): Samyukta Karthik

Author Bio(s): Samyukta Karthik is a junior from Cedar Rapids, IA, pursuing a major in Biology and Psychology with a minor in Chemistry. She is conducting research on the Parabrachial Nucleus and its projection patterns under Dr. Joel Geerling within the Department of Neurology. As a Latham Fellow, Samyukta hopes to work on early intervention and destigmatization of mental health within marginalized communities through science communication and engagement. In her free time, she enjoys graphic designing, painting, reading, and yoga.

When shopping for household items, such as sunscreen, laundry detergent, or multipurpose cleaners, being environmentally conscious is challenging when there are hundreds of items to choose from. Even if one knows where to look for the “clean” and “nontoxic” products, toxic compounds and chemicals often hide behind the fresh, flowery labels and false promises of “sustainability efforts.” This is called greenwashing, which allows companies to hide behind an image of environmental responsibility. While sustainable consumerism has increased over the past decade, greenwashing has risen along with it, which makes true sustainable consumerism difficult to achieve. Through writing easy-to-read blog posts, providing research on toxic compounds, and encouraging readers to consider human and environmental health when making purchases, my goal with my project is to make being environmentally conscious less daunting. I will not only provide readers with information on toxic household items and safer alternatives, but also encourage sustainable consumerism. 

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Project Author(s): Ashton Knatz

Author Bio(s): Ashton Knatz is a junior majoring in Environmental Sciences (B.S. Biosciences Track) with a minor in Chemistry and a certificate in Sustainability. Her interests as a Latham Fellow lie in sustainability and the environment, and she hopes to increase awareness of sustainable practices and lifestyles with her projects. She enjoys reading, playing the piano, and writing in her free time.

The purpose of this project is to create an illustrated book to help students (grades 3-6) learn about the heart in a fun and approachable way. This book is special because it will emphasize visual learning with cute characters and clear diagrams that are not only engaging for a general audience but also intended to make the book accessible to English Language Learning students. This book will be made in collaboration with mentors from the Human Physiology and Elementary Education Departments at the University of Iowa. The project will lead up to an event at a local elementary school where the book and its corresponding activities will be presented. Physical copies of the book will be distributed to local elementary schools and libraries. The book will be available on Amazon or as a free PDF on “Stemosphere“. Hopefully, this book will spark students’ interest in how their own body works. 

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Project Author(s): Samalya Thenuwara

Author Bio(s): Samalya Thenuwara is a Sri Lankan-born Iowan in her Senior year as a Presidential Scholar majoring in Human Physiology. She is the President of the Dean’s Student Advisory Committee and the Co-Founder of the Honors Program’s Diversity Advisory Board. Through both of these programs, her goal is to lift student voices. She has been an ICRU Fellow and a Stanley International Travel Awardee. Her research focuses on newspaper content analysis of health-related issues. Outside of campus, she is a proud Board Member and the Treasurer of the Emma Goldman Clinic as well as a Student Anesthesia Technician at the UIHC. In her free time, she sews dresses and is currently attempting to learn aari embroidery techniques.

Neuronal communication is complex, but what if a few simple metaphors helped you grasp the basics? Through an educational and engaging animation, kids who could be hearing about neuronal communication for the first time will learn the basics of a nerve cell's function. The explanation is designed to be simple and engaging enough that a 10-year-old can understand while retaining scientific accuracy which could eventually provide a useful foundation in later college courses. To ensure accuracy while simplifying this concept, collaboration with a faculty member in the Department of Pharmacology occurred. The first goal of the project is simplified explanation of neuronal communication to increase younger children’s interest in neuroscience and give them a piece of knowledge they can find helpful if they continue to pursue or neuro- or psych related field. The second purpose is providing a useful and memorable explanation for any students who are not in a STEM field, to better understand their own nervous system.

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Project Author(s): Laura Evans

Author Bio(s): Laura Evans, a senior from Ames, IA, is pursuing a B.S. in Neuroscience. From freshman year through the end of 2021, she conducted research on sleep and motor behavior in human infants under Dr. Mark Blumberg. This past summer, Laura was awarded a research grant through the Iowa Center For Undergraduate Research (ICRU). On campus, she has formerly been vice president of the Iowa Neuroscience Club and vice president for the University of Iowa Swing Dance club. As a Latham Fellow, Laura hopes to improve her ability to translate science into language that people of all ages and backgrounds can not only understand, but enjoy exploring for themselves. In her free time, Laura loves learning other languages, dancing, singing, taking walks, and doing jiujitsu.

Exercise is well known for its benefits in cardiovascular and metabolic systems, but the impacts that it can have on brain health are less popularized in society today. This blog is dedicated to the promotion of exercise as a means to slowing down brain disorders, by looking at what happens at the brain and neuronal level. It focuses further on well-known neurodegenerative diseases that are associated with old age, demonstrating its importance in healthy cognitive aging, as well as mental health and subjective experience. This blog hopes to increase awareness on the importance of exercise in all facets of the body while focusing specifically on how the brain is impacted in the context of brain disease. In doing so, its intended impact is to motivate individuals to go out and exercise with their own health in mind!

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Project Author(s): Daniel Fu

Author Bio(s): Daniel is a junior studying Biomedical Sciences and Philosophy with a certificate in Clinical and Translational Sciences. He is conducting research in the Fisher Lab within the Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology and was named a 2021 Iowa Neuroscience Institute Summer Scholar. His work deals with identifying the therapeutic potential of regulator of G Protein signaling 6 (RGS6) in mediating running-induced neurogenesis of the hippocampus, which is thought to be able to attenuate Alzheimer’s Disease pathology, as well as delay cognitive decline. As a Latham fellow, Daniel hopes to promote practical evidence-based methods of maintaining mental health to delay cognitive decline. In his free time, Daniel enjoys walking around the city, running, and reading thought provoking books.

The aim of this project is to engage children with science by doing exciting and interactive activities with corresponding lessons. The project consists of two different activities, one about density and one about chemical reactions, which will be implemented at the Children’s Museum of Iowa. For the density activity, kids will be making a “rainbow-in-a-cup" where they will combine equal parts of four different liquids: blue dish soap, dyed-red corn syrup, dyed-yellow vegetable oil, and dyed-green rubbing alcohol. The liquids will separate in the container to look like a rainbow, and the concept of density will be introduced. To teach about chemical reactions, the kids will make slime. This activity has the potential to explain how different molecules combine to form something new and about endothermic versus endothermic reactions, both of which can be incorporated at varying detail levels depending on the child’s age. I will send the kids home with a sheet that includes a QR code to the Stem-o-sphere website “lesson plan” tab where they can find more STEM activities to do in the future. Hopefully my project ignites or continues to foster childrens’ curiosity for the STEM field and conveys that science can be fun!

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Project Author(s): Natalie Voss

Author Bio(s): Natalie Voss is a senior from Johnston, Iowa studying biochemistry with minors in chemistry and psychology. She is researching Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus and urge incontinence for the Geerling Lab in the Department of Neurology. She is also involved in the University of Iowa Sparkles Cheerleading team, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Club, and volunteering in the UIHC Sports Medicine unit. As a Latham Fellow, Natalie would like to advocate for elementary and middle school aged girls to get involved in STEM fields. Natalie’s hobbies include watching movies, traveling to new places, and spending quality time with family and friends.

Growing up I had an interest in science but never had the confidence or tools to see myself as a scientist. Codon Conquest is my attempt at making molecular biology approachable and interactive for kids who are reaching an age where they want to fine-tune their interests. This card game will teach players the basics of transcription and translation through competing against friends to “build” an amino acid. I wanted to create a way to cultivate an interest in science that engages the whole family and I believe playing games can be an excellent and immersive didactic tool. To keep the game as accessible as possible, the game will be available through a free PDF download in which players can print and cut out their own playing cards. There will also be a downloadable PDF on how to play the game with the relevant biological concepts explained throughout. To make this game more visible to the community, the game will be advertised on local websites like the public library and the children’s museum. I hope to inspire the love and awe I feel for science in the children that play this game so that they may be enlightened to the rich and exciting knowledge that lies in the fields of science!

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Project Author(s): Grace Kollman

Author Bio(s): Grace is a senior from Iowa City majoring in neuroscience and minoring in art history. She is conducting research in Stefan Strack’s lab in the Department of Neuroscience and Pharmacology. Her research deals with identifying the role of novel protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) mutations in rare intellectual disabilities. As a Latham Fellow, Grace hopes to make science accessible and interesting to those in her community. She also hopes to show her peers the importance of making sustainable choices and solutions to living a more sustainable lifestyle. In her free time Grace loves visiting new art museums and spending time with friends and family.

The topics of genetics and genomic medicine can sound complicated and intimidating, but they are becoming more and more relevant in our lives. From direct-to-consumer testing services like 23andMe to clinical tests that help people make medical decisions, these genetic tests are becoming more prevalent than ever. Having a good grasp on how they are used, how they are interpreted, and how to find available resources is becoming increasingly important, but it can be difficult to find information about these topics if you don’t know where to look. The goal of my podcast is to explain the world of personalized genomic medicine in simple, easy-to-understand terms through interviews with genetic professionals, including a researcher at the Iowa Institute for Human Genetics and a practicing genetic counselor. Through my project, I hope to provide college-aged people with a basic understanding of how genetic testing could affect their lives in unexpected ways so that when they encounter them in the real world, they can make informed decisions about them.

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Project Author(s): Isabella Holland

Author Bio(s): Isabella Holland is a fourth-year student majoring in biology on the genetics track with a Spanish minor. Since her freshman year, she has been studying the genetic basis of fruit fly hearing and development in Dr. Daniel Eberl's lab. Last year, she was awarded a grant from the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates (ICRU) for this project. She has also been involved with research surrounding autosomal polycystic kidney disorder in mouse models and how staff communication in the pediatric ICU impacts patient diagnosis and management. Outside of her research interests, Isabella works as a student writer for the Iowa Reading Research Center and volunteers as a student ambassador for the biology department and a crisis counselor at CommUnity Crisis Services. As a Latham Fellow, Isabella hopes to communicate genetic information in an accessible way to people with a wide variety of backgrounds. In her free time, she likes reading, cooking, and spending time with friends and family.

Group Projects

The purpose of this project is to increase awareness about mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and stress. Our book will also be inclusive to racial or ethnic minorities. The relevance of our project becomes evident when looking at literature–access to information about mental health, especially when recipients are at an early age, helps mitigate stigma and the chances that children will later develop serious mental health conditions that are left untreated. This is why having three simple stories about these topics is useful, so local children can see themselves reflected in the characters and identify their own experiences. The stories each take place in a setting that is relevant to young children, such as in a classroom or on the bus, to further help them connect with the characters.

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Project Author(s): Isabella Holland, Lorena Tran, Samyukta Karthik

The goal of this project is aimed towards increasing knowledge about local sustainable agricultural practices within college-level students at the University of Iowa so that their future actions at the university and within a society are informed and beneficial from a humanistic standpoint. This will be accomplished by hosting a series of three seminars that focus on sustainable consumption of agricultural products and practices in the state of Iowa. After each seminar, individuals will be given a free plant kit or seeds for them to grow, so that they will have something to remember the seminar by as well as a daily obligation to fulfill that will promote sustainable living. This will also promote the event while incentivizing individuals to attend. Through these actions, individuals will ideally develop a greater understanding of the food industry and how it can be changed to become more sustainable for future generations.

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Project Author(s): Daniel Fu, Sofia Gomez

Over 80% of college students do not exercise 5 times a week for 30 minutes or eat fruits and vegetables daily. While there are many factors that contribute to students not reaching these recomendations, limited time and experience are major barriers for newly-independent adults. The purpose of this project is to provide accessible resources that will provide information about nutrition and exercise. We hope to partner with Student Wellness and other university services to make two informational pamphlets and nutritional plans widely available on campus for students.

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Project Author(s): Grant Welk, Natalie Voss, Preston Johnson, Samalya Thenuwara

The goal of this project is to create a blog that informs the Iowa City community about local sustainable practices, businesses dedicated to improving sustainability, and how to make sustainable lifestyle choices. Each of us will write one blog post monthly to yield a total of nine blog posts for the Stem-O-Sphere website. We will also be enriching our blog by engaging with the Iowa City community and creating three videos highlighting local businesses implementing sustainable practices. Additionally, we plan to do a social media takeover on the University of Iowa’s Office of Sustainability and Environment’s Instagram account to broaden our impact.   

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Project Author(s): Ashton Knatz, Grace Kollman, Laura Evans