Stanford at The Tech: Final Projects

The final project is a chance to make a lasting impact on teaching science to the public. In your second quarter, you'll take what you've learned and create something that stays at The Tech.
You can create new floor activities, new features for the web site, refresh older experiences, experiment with cutting-edge biology to see if it can be made “kid proof”, etc. You can also take someone's initial ideas, flesh them out, prototype them, and roll out the new project. As these final projects are fairly complex, they can span multiple quarters and so can involve more than one student or postdoc.

Below are just a few of the recent final projects.

Spanish Language Materials

All though The Tech serves a diverse audience,  in a facilitated experience it can be hard for the instructor to support people in a language they do not know. In spring of 2020, genetic counseling student Marina Sumarroca decided to tackle this daunting challenge.

She translated a complete set of materials for the “Ancient DNA” activity, making it possible for a visitor to do the entire activity in Spanish. In her remaining time, Marina started outlining guides to the more facilitated activities, which would allow a visitor to follow the basic instructions in their native language.
This is still a work in process! Any student who is fluent in other languages is encouraged to contribute to this project, to improve our ability to serve visitors who do not speak English.


Fall 2018: Margaret Antonio tests out an early prototype with high schoolers … during a power outage using a light from her phone.

"Ancient DNA" activity

In 2018, graduate Margaret Antonio noticed that the genetics programming repertoire did not include any bioinformatics concepts. She set out to bring her own area of interest to The Tech: ancient DNA. She brought the stories of Cheddar Man and Otzi the Iceman to visitors, creating a set of paper DNA sequence strips that can be aligned (by hand!) to reference sequences. Visitors then identify which allele the individual has, which determine traits such as eye color, blood type, etc.

Along with graduate student Irene Li, she tested out her early prototypes and refined them. The final product was a simple framework that was solvable even by young visitors.

 


Spring 2019: Olivia de Goede tries out an early iteration with museum visitors.

Improving the "Ancient DNA" activity

In early 2019, Olivia de Goede helped transform this early prototype. She incorporated two additional individuals (an 11000 yr old infant and a 2000 yr old horse), which required a significant amount of graphic design. This expansion also led her to prototype and implement a change from instructor-guided into self-guided, with tiered difficulty levels appropriate to different ages.

In fall 2019, graduate student Vy Nguyen created a booklet about the story of the 5th ancient individual, a 500 year old dog. In early 2020, genetic counseling student Tiffany Nguyen created the story booklet of a 6th individual, a 5000 year old woman from Germany.

The result of all this work is a popular experience that is accessible to even young children who have never heard of DNA, while incorporating concepts that are challenging even to high school students. It has the most genetics content of any activity we’ve tried, yet as all information is “opt in” it is not overwhelming. Now that the basic framework is in place, it would be possible for future Stanford@TheTech participants to adapt the stories of other ancient individuals into this activity.

Fall 2019: Rebecca Culver tests out an early prototype of DNA Markers.

"DNA Markers" activity

This new activity was largely spearheaded in 2019 by graduate student Rebecca Culver, who took an initial idea and ran with it. We had the idea to pair a DNA extraction with art: since DNA is water soluble, it can dissolve in water-based inks, which can then be put into a pen or marker.

Becca did all of the early testing and prototyping, bringing it from a concept to a part of the regular programming repertoire. In its current form, museum visitors are able to extract their own DNA from cheek cells, mix it with whatever color ink they wish, absorb it into a miniature marker, and then draw with their own DNA!


Fall 2019: Maria Viteri fine tunes her fishing game with museum visitors.

"Sustainable fishing" activity

In fall 2019, graduate student Maria Viteri wanted to refresh an outdated “Natural Selection” activity. She created a fishing game where visitors join “fishing villages”. Simply by relying on the natural drive to compete, it is possible to explore how choices made by the visitors may deplete or change a population


Winter 2019: Guillaume Riesen tests his placemat design with visitors.

CSI placemat graphic design

In winter 2019, graduate student Guillaume Riesen wanted to add better graphics and visuals to the “Crime scene analysis” activity. To help with this, he designed a set of “placemats” for each visitor. These quickly showed people the correct orientation for the agarose gel, which sample should go in each lane, the eventual direction of electricity flow, and where to keep the tube rack. This significantly streamlined the experience, as it decreased the amount of verbal instruction.

 


Literature review of dominant/recessive myths

As scientists have learned more about human variation, traits that were once thought to be simple dominant/recessive were discovered to be more complex. Despite this, many human traits are commonly described as dominant/recessive, both online in various forums and in classrooms.

In fall 2018, graduate students Harmony Folse and Shein Ei Cho sought to track down what is actually known about the genetics of some of these most popular suspects: dimples, earlobe attachment, PTC taste, and more. This resulted in a very useful article that is helping to inform genetics programming at The Tech.