Biology and biochemistry students have won a national award for an original video that teaches elementary schoolchildren about germs.
The Suffolk University students used a creative approach in responding to the “What is a Germ?” Challenge from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and their efforts brought home the 2013 award.
“Our goal was to make the video both fun and educational for elementary students,” said junior Kyle Swerdlow. “We wanted them to learn and enjoy themselves at the same time.”
The winning entry, “The Journey to the Germ,” was submitted by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Undergraduate Affiliates Network chapter at Suffolk University.
The rules for the contest were simple: Use any format to explain what a germ is. More than 30 submissions were submitted from across the country, and the judges were Greater Boston elementary-school students. They scored each submission based on how much they learned about germs from the entry and whether or not it was interesting.
“One of the stipulations of the contest was that all material had to be original, so in addition to live filming, our students created Claymation videos to depict certain microbial processes,” said Biology Professor Celeste Peterson, the faculty adviser on the project. “This turned out to be a great way for our students to learn the processes as well.”
The Suffolk students’ 7½-minute video describes how germs operate in different settings, explaining the difference between “good” germs and “bad” germs by sending viewers on a journey throughout the human body, navigated by host “Antibody Bob,” portrayed by Swerdlow.
To punctuate their message, the students dressed up as life-size versions of rhinovirus, athlete’s foot and the intestinal bacterium E. coli, explaining each germ’s role in the development of ailments.
“After a lot of brainstorming, we wanted to make a video that gave a comprehensive and objective picture of what germs are, free from most of the scientific jargon,” said senior Azul Pinochet-Barros. “Also, trying to put yourself in the mind-set of an eleven-year-old helps you to think outside the box, something that I think we all managed to do at the end of the day.”
Swerdlow wrote the script outline, and then each student researched and wrote a part for his or her germ in preparation for the shoot in the University’s Genetics Lab.
“We learned that teamwork was essential, from the people who made the animations to the person holding the camera,” said Pinochet-Barros, who will enter the Ph.D. microbiology program at Cornell University in the fall. “With our tight schedules, we made the most of this experience by coordinating and working as an efficient team.”
Swerdlow mentioned that collaborating as a group worked well because “we’re all friends and share this special interest.”
The Suffolk students received their award during the Cambridge Science Festival, held at MIT. Joining Swerdlow and Pinochet-Barros on the winning team were: seniors Georgeanna Morton and Kien Ngyuen, juniors Matthew Broulidakis and Randy Grimshaw, and sophomores Pauline Ngo and Tatjana Von Rosen.
“This contest challenged our students and they responded so well,” said Peterson. “They were enthusiastic, clever, and had a lot of fun.”