Biology major Thomas Tallo '16, who is concentrating in health sciences, traveled to Beijing, China, with Assistant Professor of Biology Jason Kuehner to attend the International Beijing Science Festival (BJSF), which is sponsored by the Beijing Association for Science and Technology (BAST) with the aim of strengthening international cooperation on science popularization and science literacy.
The festival was held September 18th-25th at the Beijing Olympic Park. Tallo and Dr. Kuehner were invited to the festival based on their volunteer service with a local nonprofit group, US China Scitech Education Promotion Association, which coordinates science and technology activities between schools in the United States and China. Tallo and Dr. Kuehner have been conducting research together at Emmanuel for two years - their research studies gene regulation during cell stress, including DNA damage and cell wall stress.
"I wanted to attend the festival to connect with scientists across the world and help spark interest in the sciences among students of upcoming generations," Tallo said. "I also enjoy experiencing other cultures and traveling." This trip was Tallo's first time in China.
At the festival, the Tallo and Dr. Kuehner gave 20 different, interactive demonstrations in nanotechnology for the general public and school groups. They worked with members of the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network (NISE), which aims to foster public awareness, engagement and understanding of nanoscale science, engineering and technology. They also worked with Brad Herring, director of NISE and multimedia developer at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, North Carolina, and Frank Kusiak, project manager at the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as Chinese middle school student volunteers from Beijing and science outreach professionals from China, Denmark, Germany, England, Switzerland, South Africa, Israel and Australia.
"This experience was important for Tom and myself because it exposed us to international science outreach methods, helping us to see the 'universal best practices' that can break down even the most significant obstacles like language barriers," said Dr. Kuehner. "If you're excited about a topic and can convey that enthusiasm, the science can sell itself."
Tallo added, "It was rewarding to see the kids get excited and express genuine interest in the activities we held with the rest of the group."
Dr. Kuehner was further convinced in the universality of science when he saw Herring conduct a demonstration that made nearly 30 Chinese middle schoolers simultaneously gasp in awe. He also said Tallo also performed a demonstration that involved a balloon "nanotube sculpture" and the Emmanuel senior was surrounded by dozens of excited students.
"My biggest takeaway is that good science outreach can capture a child's imagination despite what appears to be an insurmountable obstacle," Dr. Kuehner said.
Outside of the festival, Tallo and Dr. Kuehner had the time and opportunity to do some sightseeing, which was equally as important and informative to them. They explored the Great Wall of China, Beijing National Stadium (also known as the Bird's Nest), Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, and dined at several restaurants in the city.
Tallo and Dr. Kuehner interacted with student volunteers and were part of a group as they traveled across the city, which Dr. Kuehner said gave them all a chance to learn and challenge their previously held assumptions about Chinese and American culture.
Tallo agreed, saying, "I realized that there are many misconceptions in the United States about the Chinese people, their government and their way of life. The biggest takeaway was becoming more knowledgeable about the Chinese culture."