College hosts ‘Sci-Fri’ event, displays STEM projects to encourage interaction, showcase research


Friday, Sept. 22, the College of William and Mary’s Integrated Science Center held an open event titled “Sci-Fri: An Open Night of Science for the Community” to highlight its many STEM projects. The different science departments of the College each organized hands-on activities, appealing to audiences of all ages. 

ISC is one of the most recently renovated academic buildings on campus and is home to several science departments, including applied science, biology, chemistry, data science, neuroscience, physics and psychological science. 

The psychological science department showcased various activities, including an EKG machine to show the effect of emotions and physical activities on a child’s heartbeat. 

Ansley Crutchfield ’25, a student in the College’s Master of Science in Psychology program, reflected on her initial interest in the College’s approach to intensive research and collaboration. Master’s degree students in the psychological sciences department engage in a two-year, highly selective research-oriented program in a small group of eight to nine graduate students.   

“My master’s program that I am involved in here is research-based and so what really attracted me to the program was their emphasis on psychology as a science and Dr. Madelyn Labella’s research profile regarding emotional regulation,” Crutchfield said.

Stephanie Kent ’24 reflected on her time affiliated with the Psychology department. 

“I joined professor Madelyn Labella’s lab the spring of my sophomore year,” Kent said. “I’m really interested in clinical psychology, and she does a lot of developmental and clinical research.”

The psychological science department also included information about the reading of brain waves and a comparison of a human and sheep brain.

Within the bioengineering department, the International Genetically Engineered Machine team also offered a series of activities. One activity included the extraction of strawberry DNA using a solution consisting of mashed strawberries, water, salt, soap and rubbing alcohol.

Undergraduate researcher and the College’s iGEM team leader Megan Fleeharty ’24 first joined the iGEM team after seeing an advertisement.

“I was in a research lab before I joined the iGEM team, but I saw posters around, and I just thought it was really cool that it’s very student-driven research,” Fleeharty said.

Every year, the iGEM competition fosters student collaboration, requiring students to design and improve situations via methods involving synthetic biology. The first competition took place in 2004 and has garnered widespread global attention, prompting over 300 teams to take part in these projects. This year, the iGEM team’s main focus is addressing global soil problems by engineering bacteria. 

“So I’m a senior, so I have been in a lab for two years, but ultimately what interested me in synthetic biology is its quantitative, thoroughly quantitative approach to biology,” Diego Morandi Zerpa ‘24 said. “That quantitative approach is what I think allows us to understand more of the complicated biological systems in a much more thorough way.

I think synthetic biology is going to revolutionize medicine,” Morandi Zerpa said.  “It’s going to revolutionize food production, it’s going to revolutionize the technologies that we pursue for climate change, so I just think synthetic biology is a revolutionary field. That’s a really good reason to join the lab.”

Morandi Zerpa also emphasized the importance of synthetic biology for future global developments. 

“I think synthetic biology is going to revolutionize medicine,” Morandi Zerpa said.  “It’s going to revolutionize food production, it’s going to revolutionize the technologies that we pursue for climate change, so I just think synthetic biology is a revolutionary field. That’s a really good reason to join the lab.”

At the event last Friday, the biology department offered a live marine invertebrate touch tank. The tank included live sea animals such as sand dollars, sea cucumbers, starfish and coral. The live sea animals were contained in small tubs, allowing the public an opportunity to touch and feel them. 

Associate professor of biology Jonathan Allen noted that his love for biology sprouted from his childhood memories.

“There were creeks and ponds and things near my house that I would go flip rocks in and find crayfish and others like salamanders and newts and things like that,” Allen said. “I would bring them back to my house and put them in bowls and tanks and try to study them to the degree that I could. I still basically go out, except in the ocean instead of the stream next to my house and I flip over rocks and look at the animals that live underneath them.”

Many of the other departments, including the geology department, shared its display of research findings with colorful posters throughout the ISC lobby. Manya Kaladi ’27 shared what she thought was particularly intriguing about the department’s GeoLab presentation.

“What I thought was really interesting was the fluorescent microscopy,” Kaladi said. “I was very interested to see how one person, one undergraduate student, was like kind of quantifying the fluorescence of bacteria, and I thought it was very interesting how it was like a lot of trial and error, but it would also have a very positive result because it would allow a lot of undergraduate students and universities across America to have a base point.” 

Kaladi expressed her satisfaction in viewing and interacting with the experiments and exhibits at the event. 

“I thought it was really amazing,” Kaladi said. “I really enjoyed the little experiments, seeing the glow-in-the-dark bacteria and seeing the elephant toothpaste experiments. I thought it was a great way of introducing science to introductory students or people who aren’t that acquainted with it, and I also really loved touring the greenhouse.”

Through interactive activities, engaging presentations and hands-on experiments, the Sci-Fri event brought the Williamsburg community together and exposed innovative research and scientific discovery to attendees of all ages, inspiring past, present and future scientists.


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