Elected by their peers to help make science in their schools come alive, about 70 middle- and high-school students recently engaged in a virtual exercise with a Nobel Laureate and visited a steel and concrete encased vault that will soon house the world’s most powerful laser at the Biodesign Institute. The students are Arizona’s Chief Science Officers – students elected by their peers to help make science engaging and meaningful to students, teachers and parents.

The Chief Science Officer (CSO) movement is a collaborative initiative that was launched in Arizona and is sweeping the nation – even catching on in Mexico and Kuwait.  The program is sponsored by the Arizona Commerce Authority and the Arizona Technology Council Foundation. This year’s summer leadership institute was held for the first time on the Arizona State University campus.

The eager students, who started their visit in the Biodesign auditorium, offered descriptions on what it means to be a CSO: a leader, a communicator, a creator, an advocate. One student talked about advocating for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and being an inspiration to Hispanic young women and seeing the change in demographics in those fields. Another student talked about being proud of their achievements and showing how hard they’ve all worked to be where they are as CSOs.

Biodesign Institute researcher Lee Hartwell, a 2001 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine, appeared virtually and guided the students and teachers through an exercise about scientists’ secrets. “What is most fascinating to scientists?” Hartwell asked. “Scientists are interested in what we don’t know.”

He talked about how cells divide, which was an unknown when he was a young scientist, and asked students what unknown they wanted to explore. Hartwell ended his session by telling students to “follow your interests.”

Ph.D. candidate Charles Rolsky also shared similar advice to students. “Find what you’re passionate about,” he said, joking about how even though there isn’t an ocean in Arizona, he is passionate about his research on microplastics and the marine environment. “Immerse yourself in documentaries and use the internet. Stick with your subject and keep following it,” he said.

After brief encounters with two Biodesign graduate students and a walk by a cancer-themed cactus garden, the students toured the Biodesign C vault, which will hold the compact X-ray free electron laser (CXFEL). Once the laser arrives, the building will no longer be open to the public.

The students broke up into small groups in order to get up close and personal with working scientists.  Students were able to explore a variety of topics, including microplastics, viruses, biomarkers and the human brain. Each session gave students hands-on experience into the scientific methods the researchers used – whether sifting through samples for microplastic under a microscope or looking at brains afflicted with Alzheimer’s.

At the end of each session, students received a CSO version of a Biodesign “lab coat,” a T-shirt that students decorated with words explaining how they want to use science to make the world a better place.  Before the students ended their day, they met with Joshua LaBaer, executive director of the Biodesign Institute, and himself both a cancer researcher and a physician. The three-day residential experience was sponsored by Access ASU, Biodesign Institute, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“With more than 200 working scientists here at Biodesign, teachers have told us that the best gift we can give their students is the chance to meet working scientists, learn what they do on a day-to-day basis, and be able to ask questions,” said Dianne Price, Biodesign director of marketing and communications. “Today’s researchers are not content being cloistered behind the laboratory doors. They find encounters with students enlightening and inspiring.”

Over 250 CSOs, including 17 students from Kuwait and 15 from Sonora, Mexico, participated in the Chief Science Officer Summer Institute, held July 16-19 at the ASU Tempe campus. Arizona SciTech and CSO sponsors and collaborators were also on site for the STEM Expo, held on the camp’s final day, which gave students the chance to showcase networking skills and finalize action plans for implementation on their campuses.


Written by: Jean Clare Sarmiento

Retrieved From: Jean C. Sarmiento. Arizona’s School Science ‘Ambassadors’ Seek Inspiration, Ideas At. biodesign.asu.edu/news/arizona’s-school-science-‘ambassadors’-seek-inspiration-ideas-biodesign.

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