Princeton University professor Dr. Bonnie Bassler spent a day on campus sharing her research and expertise on how bacteria communicate on Thursday, February 1. Dr. Bassler is the second of seven speakers visiting campus this year through the generosity of the Clare Foundation STEM Speaker Series.
Dr. Bassler is the Chair of the Molecular Biology Department at Princeton and a recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Genius grant. She is known in her field as the "Bacteria Whisperer."
In the morning Dr. Bassler explained to Upper School students that bacteria live in bacterial communities, are multi-lingual, and have "a potpourri of personalities." Bacteria communicate through chemical signals. Dr. Bassler and her team of lab researchers are now looking into whether this newly discovered communication can help develop new medications by turning off some of the communication and introducing a synthetic molecule. She is expanding her work with bacterial communication to include the design and production of other anti-pathogenic products such as disinfectants, surface paints, and coatings for medical devices.
Dr. Bassler applauded the dedication of her graduate and undergraduate student researchers and pointed out many of them are close in age to EA Upper School students. She noted that many major discoveries have been made by young people and encouraged EA students to pursue careers in science.
"Being a scientist is the greatest life in the world," said Dr. Bassler. "We are adventurers and pioneers. It's like the wild west."
Dr. Bassler spent the remainder of the morning meeting with students in Middle and Upper School science classes, followed by lunch with AP Biology students. "It is a privilege to be a scientist," said Dr. Bassler.
She explained to Middle School students that bacteria are everywhere. "They are like a suit of armor, they are not bystanders. I love bacteria, they are incredibly amazing."
Dr. Bassler encouraged students to look for mentors and commented, "They don't have to look like you." She shared when she started out in science that it was not gender-neutral. She believes gender disparity in science will eventually disappear. "Now it's my turn to make sure that doesn't happen to you."
The Clare Foundation STEM Speaker Series kicked off in January with David Maiullo and That Physics Show. The next scheduled speaker is Stanford University Neurologist Dr. Robert Sapolsky on Monday, February 12.
Established through the generosity of the Clare Foundation, the goal of the specialized series is to expose students and faculty to dynamic, innovative, and creative thought leaders across a range of STEM areas and sectors. The series also offers faculty the opportunity to learn from both content area experts and STEM education leaders in an effort to improve pedagogy and practice. Discussions and ideas that are created from the Speaker Series will further expand curricular opportunities for students and may spark the development of new programs.
Speakers were selected from a variety of sectors (public, private and education) and from a range of STEM fields. The focus was on creating a diverse range of distinctive opportunities for the EA community, each of which is powerful in its own right, yet collectively are transformative in the teaching and learning process. Speakers selected for this series are leaders in their fields, each with an impressive record of accomplishment in their careers. Depending upon the area of expertise for each individual speaker, the day's events are uniquely planned to maximize learning across campus.