Biophysics Research Internship Program for high school students
Together with prof. Raicu group and Physics teachers Kelsey Burke and Kevin Kane from Shorewood High, we organize the Biophysics Research Internship Program for high school students. Every year, 4-6 students from Shorewood High School are selected based on their grades, interest and potential. Students go through safety training, attend two session where they learn about optics, and are assigned a research project and a direct supervisor from the current laboratory members. In the final part, the students analyze their data, write a short report and present their data to their colleagues, teachers and parents. The students who graduate receive a diploma.
Down to Earth Experimental Physics (DEEP)
In 2019, our lab joined Down to Earth Experimental Physics (DEEP), which was started by Gina and Vali Raicu at Lake Bluff and Atwater Elementary Schools, and have expanded it to UWM laboratories. As an after-school Physics program, DEEP engages students in experimental Physics through fun hands-on experiments and instructive demo. The program runs once a week for one semester. The program coordinators, UWM students and researchers work with students in small groups to build, use, and take home various devices. The program also includes a visit to our laboratories at UWM.
Science for Everyone (with Demos)
No amount of time spent with molecular visualization software can contend with the feeling one has when holding a 3D-printed protein and unfolding it with his fingers. This seemingly easy process quickly intrigues whomever tries it, as folding the strands together is nothing like releasing an extended spring. Hence, one of our aims is to bring this experience to the general public by producing hands-on exhibits. We use 3D printing in elastic materials, which allows us to reproduce the structure of proteins and to demonstrate their unfolding under force. We are planning to develop an exhibit with 3D printed proteins and presented it as part of UWM Science Bag.
Participation of underrepresented groups
UWM attracts a broad range of students from underrepresented minorities. According to Milwaukee Public Schools District fact sheet, about 75% of the students enrolled in public K-12 education are minorities underrepresented in STEM fields. Our lab attracts many students from underrepresented minorities. We collaborate with UWM Office of Undergraduate Research to fund 3-5 students each semester, the majority from underrepresented minorities. We also work with STEM-Inspire Wisconsin Alliance for Minority Participation (WiscAMP), which is a NSF initiative that aims to enhance learning opportunities for minority students. Each semester, 2-3 undergraduate or graduate students have been supported by WiscAMP in pursuing their research projects in the lab. Dr. Popa is also a mentor in the program, and meets monthly with 3-5 minority and who are not part of his research program.
From his position as UWM Ambassador, Dr. Popa works with high school students interested in STEM who intend to enroll UWM. By participating in recruitment events like college fairs and on-campus visit programs, ambassadors share their UWM experience with prospective students and their families. Their personal success stories and firsthand experiences provide an individual connection to students, making a significant impact as they explore their college options and help with the university’s recruitment efforts.
UWM, through its Research Foundation, is currently providing our lab with mentorship and help toward applying for several patents for new protein-based products. The university has recently invested ~ $10M in a new Innovation center, the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center, and is part of the NSF I-Corps network. A Catalyst and an Applied Research Grant were awarded to our laboratory toward development of new ideas.
Science & Politics
Our laboratory helps advertise Science in general and explain to the general public, in layman’s terms, our scope, mission and findings. Apart from regular Science fairs, we also promote science to our representatives, who ultimately decide the NSF and NIH budgets. In Spring 2018, Kirill Shmilovich, was the first ever student from UWM to be selected to attend Annual Posters on the Hill conference in D.C. As an undergraduate student, Kirill has presented our research in front of the House and Senate representatives.