New Face at the Top

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Welcome to our new COPUS blogger Sonia Bhangoo! Sonia is a Post-doctoral Fellow at the National Institutes of Health conducting research on chronic pain. She has volunteered to help with COPUS, because she is passionate about connecting science to the public. We are thrilled to have Sonia as part of our COPUS team!

January was quite the time to be in Washington, DC. The energy surrounding the arrival of a new President at the White house could be felt in the cold January air. However as the next few months passed, and the new administration settled down in the nation’s capital, questions of who will lead the various government agencies arose. One such agency near and dear to our hearts is the world renowned National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH is at the front line when it comes to science, providing financial support for medical research in every state and around the world.

On Monday August 17th, 2009, Dr. Francis Collins was sworn in as the 16th director of the NIH. For the past decade, Dr. Collins had been serving as the director for the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) at the NIH. His work and leadership led the institute to prestige in April 2003 with the completion of a finished sequence of the human DNA instruction book. Being a top leader at the NIH, while authoring several books on the importance of research and medicine, shows his appreciation for science.

While his scientific career is well known and appreciated, some out there may not know his softer side. Dr. Collins recently made an appearance on the Colbert Report on Comedy Central. His witty remarks and ability to develop a comic rapport with Steven Colbert show that not only is he a successful scientist, but can also be someone who brings ease and understanding to the often complex world of science. This was especially apparent in his response concerning cloning and stem cell research after Colbert expressed his desire for crab claws!

As you know, the mission of COPUS is to bring science to the forefront of the public eye and increase their public understanding of the nature of science and its value to society. Having a leader like Dr. Collins will help further this effort. His ability to communicate to the public the necessity for biomedical research and how it can further our society is a welcome sight to the scientists who dedicate their lives to the exploration of science. Seeing the public understand, value and appreciate research is the ultimate goal that we all hope to achieve. A new director at the helm will bring a different perspective and a different way achieving this goal. Welcome Dr. Collins!

In case you missed his appearance on the Colbert Report, check it out here:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Francis Collins
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMichael Moore

Catching up with the Cambridge hub

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Welcome to our new COPUS blogger and Regional Hub Coordinator Jennifer Skene! Jennifer is a post doc at the University of California, Museum of Paleontology diving in to science education -- and will be a regular blogger here at COPUS. We are thrilled to have her join the COPUS team!

COPUS Regional Hubs are doing great things, across the country! This is the first in a series of blogs to update you on Regional Hub activities. We'll share the strategies that are working for each Regional Hub, and introduce you to the people who are making things happen.

I recently spoke to Natalie Kuldell, one of the liaisons of the Cambridge Regional Hub, and an Instructor of Biological Engineering at MIT. Natalie, along with co-leaders Ben Wiehe of WGBH, and Marie Studer of the Encyclopedia of Life, meet with the Cambridge hub members every other month. They don't meet at the member organizations' offices. Instead, they meet in a neutral space, like a bar (I love the idea of a hub in a pub!) or a municipal building. They start with a 30-minute talk about a topic of general interest, and then break for snacks and networking. The hub members suggest the topics for the meetings. "We want it to be group directed, not top-down," says Natalie. Some of the topics suggested for future meetings include how to improve an organization's web presence, and how to better interact with the press. Right now, the challenge is to develop a good communication tool, so that everyone can participate in planning the hub meetings and can coordinate on collaborative activities. They're experimenting with a Google Group - I'll keep you posted on how it works out.

Networking is central to the Cambridge hub's strategy; the Cambridge area has lots of science resources, and COPUS brings different groups together. Natalie says it's been great for people with complementary interests to connect and talk about how they can help each other out. The Cambridge hub meetings have resulted in a few collaborations already: several MIT graduate students have spoken at the science caf├ęs organized by Ben Wiehe.

As an instructor at MIT, Natalie designs the curriculum for the biological engineering undergraduate major and teaches several research-based courses - learn more about her work here. Natalie wants "scientists to be spokespeople for science." Especially in the area of biological engineering - "bioengineering is a field that needs a good public interface, so people can get a good idea of what bioengineering can and can't do." She hopes that when her students are asked about bioengineering issues, like genetically modified food, they can be articulate providers of good information. In the classroom, Natalie works with about 100 students each year. Her involvement with COPUS lets her interact with a much broader group.

Do you have suggestions or strategies you'd like to share with other COPUS Regional Hubs? Or questions about how other hubs operate? Email me at