Rebekka Baiser

Humans of UCSF: Young at Heart

Columnist
School of Dentistry

“I love running around with kids because I feel free to be the goofy person that I am. And as a goofy person, science is easier to learn in an interactive and silly way. Luckily, I got to put these two passions together when my PI signed me up to teach kids at the BMS retreat daycare.

Something I really enjoyed learning as a kid, was when my teacher would project microorganisms in class. The feeling I had watching the organisms move around, inspired me to integrate this into my lesson plan. Growing up with technology at my fingertips, I figured out how to take live videos from petri samples under a microscope and then project them onto a screen.

On the weekends in lab, I would send my friends snapchat videos of c. elegans with my phone camera lined up to the microscope lens. I then realized I could get a live video of the worms onto a projector screen if I facetimed from my phone.

I never knew how amazing it would feel to have kids excited and running around while actually learning something. As the kids walked into their lesson, the whole room was filled with the worms running across the screen. The kids got to see the different body parts of a worms through different fluorescent tagged tissues, like muscle fibers, neurons, and coelomocytes. I then asked the kids to move around the room and imitate the worms moving around. Kinda like a Dance Dance Revolution: the worm edition.

We even explained chemotaxis to them (behavioral movement directed by scents) by placing yummy food in one corner and then trash in another, and asked them to move towards what they thought would smell good. We then asked them to close their eyes and imagine they can no longer smell and run towards where they think the good smell would be.

The kids were laughing and by the end of the lesson they were able to grasp what it was like to be like the worms that we study in lab.

The most powerful part about this whole thing was how eager they are to learn when they are excited and goofing around. Once they saw how I goofy and energetic I was with them, they became more interested. I’m glad I got to see those kids and experience the retreat, I felt like I got a glimpse of my future path as a grad student and the mentor I am and want to be.”

Rebekka Baiser

Research Associate, UCSF Tissue and Cell Biology Department