Stanford scientists volunteer at major genomics exhibit now in San Jose

“Genomics: Unlocking Life’s Code” is at the Tech Museum of Innovation through April. Stanford volunteers will be available to answer questions.

Abbey Thompson, a graduate student in genetics at Stanford, volunteers as a docent at the genomics exhibit at the Tech Museum.
Norbert von der Groeben

A popular exhibit created by the National Institutes of Health and the Smithsonian Institution — “Genomics: Unlocking Life’s Code” — recently opened at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, and Stanford geneticists are helping visitors unravel the science.

Created to honor the 10-year anniversary of the completion of the Human Genome Project, the exhibit was at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., before embarking on a tour of North America. The Tech Museum is its second stop.

The exhibit has drawn a lot of volunteer interest from Stanford’s scientific community, especially its geneticists. Michael Cherry, PhD, professor of genetics, has trained as a docent for the exhibit. Members of his lab team have volunteered to work as docents, too.

“It is good for us to learn how to communicate our science to the general public — to explain things that seem basic to us,” Cherry said. “Visitors tell us what is important to them; they stimulate us.”

Longtime museum-Stanford relationship

For more than a decade, the Genetics Department has sponsored Stanford at the Tech, a program that aims to explain the science of genetics to the general public.

“It is so critical that we reach the public,” said Michael Snyder, PhD, professor and chair of genetics. “We are undergoing a genetics revolution, where everyone can get their DNA sequence determined, and it will transform the way medicine is practiced.”

Thompson and other experts will be on hand to answer questions about the genomics exhibit, which runs through April 27.
Norbert von der Groeben

Led by Barry Starr, PhD, director of outreach activities for the Genetics Department, Stanford at the Tech helped construct one of the museum’s permanent exhibits, called “Genetics: Technology With a Twist.” The program trains graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to work as docents who answer questions and lead hands-on activities, such as DNA extraction.

“I teach kids about DNA,” said Miguel Mata, PhD, postdoctoral scholar in microbiology and immunology, a docent who recently helped children visiting the museum view the DNA in their own cells. “We can show the kids that under a microscope we’re all the same — a collection of cells that has meaning and purpose.”

The traveling exhibit includes displays on the microbiome, biodiversity and the use of DNA sequencing to trace ancestry. (Spoiler: Humans have fewer genes than amoebas.) The genomics exhibit is geared toward an older audience, but the docents are ready to answer questions from visitors of all ages.

“Genomics: Unlocking Life’s Code” opened Jan. 22 and runs through April 27. For more information about the exhibit, visit http://unlockinglifescode.org. The Tech Museum of Innovation is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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