Nipam Patel -- MBL

Nipam Patel, director of the Marine Biological Laboratory and a professor at the University of Chicago, introduces the SciShoots educational video series.

At the end of last year, the Falmouth Public Schools signed a formal partnership with several Woods Hole scientific organizations to give students and teachers new learning and professional development opportunities. Before the partnership could completely take shape, however, the coronavirus pandemic closed schools and forced students, teachers and scientists alike to work remotely.

While moving the partnership forward with the school district, the staffs at Marine Biological Laboratory and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, among other organizations, have taken to YouTube as a virtual platform for scientific instruction for students from elementary school to high school.

One of the most active online projects is MBL’s SciShoots video series, which is directed by Nipam Patel, director of MBL and a University of Chicago professor.

“We have hundreds of scientists who come here every year to study all sorts of questions in basic biology. We also have hundreds who come to have the chance to partake in really intensive lab experiences that give them a real idea of what it’s like to do research. Many of you are staying at home right now because of the coronavirus pandemic, so we can’t bring students here to the MBL, but we decided that we would bring our science to you by posting one or two videos every week,” Dr. Patel said in his introductory video for the series.

The videos help students understand “issues of basic cell biology, how the microbiome affects health and disease, how nutrients cycle through ecosystems and how climate change is affecting the environment,” Dr. Patel said.

Other topics have included Cape Cod corals, horseshoe crab biology, invasive alien species, animal health, the history of the MBL, Earth Day and ecosystems, and regeneration in axolotls.

Dr. Patel is now creating a video about his research on wing colors in butterflies.

Viewers can watch the videos at www.youtube.com/mblwoodshole or by using the hashtag #mblscishoots.

Creating the videos is a challenge because of MBL’s social distancing requirements, but a group of about 15 researchers has met that challenge.

“People who are coming in for essential work such as feeding animals are shooting the videos on their own or with one another person using a smartphone,” Dr. Patel said. “Emily Greenhalgh [MBL’s digital media specialist] is doing all the editing, and the researchers are splicing together other footage from earlier presentations. We’re not trying to do anything fancy, but we wanted to provide something that is fun and useful for teachers and the community, and I think people have been enjoying it.”

While high school students and interested adults are the primary audiences for the videos, MBL is also looking to create content for younger students in coming months, Dr. Patel said.

At Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, researchers have shared a virtual library of digital lessons, activities and a webinar event calendar at https://go.whoi.edu/OceanatHome.

The “Ocean Encounters” section includes a presentation titled “Exploring Inner and Outer Space” from NASA astronaut Sunita Williams and Timothy Shank, a deep-sea scientist at WHOI.

Another recent presentation, titled “A Window into the Twilight Zone,” shows how WHOI oceanographer Andone Lavery and her team of scientists and engineers created a tool for exploring the Ocean Twilight Zone, a layer of the ocean beyond all but the dimmest sunlight.

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