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Engagement Activities

STEM Ambassadors have carried out engagement activities in a range of unique venues. We present a subset of these here, organized by scientific discipline. Select a menu item above to view activities for a particular discipline.

Social & Behavioral Science


  • Anthropologist Michael Zaccheo visited secure youth facilities to discuss how humans make decisions and perceive risk. He illustrated variation in risk perception by playing a game of chance with the students.
  • A zooarchaeologist brought animal bones to a youth in custody facility. Students completed an activity where they identified the animal’s habitat based on its bone and teeth structure.
  • An anthropologist discussed diet in early humans with participants in a horticulture job training program at a correctional facility. The anthropologist worked with the participants to create recipe cards for distribution at the local farmer’s market that incorporated science content about the produce grown in the Jail’s garden.


  • Cognition scientist Lauren Williams discussed her work with a team of game designers at a local board game store. Designers assisted Lauren in creating a cognition and neural science game.
  • Cognition scientist Lauren Williams discussed her work on visual attention with participants at local senior centers.
  • Cognition and Neural Scientist Lace Padilla met with computer scientists and designers at a software company to explore ways that science can be applied by designers.

Life Science

Cell & Molecular Bio

  • A biologist who studies genetic diversity in pigeons brought live pigeons to secure youth facilities and discussed her career path.

  • Microbiologist Julia McGonigle, whose hobbies include making homemade sauerkraut and kimchi, shared the microbiology behind fermentation cooking at a cooking school.
  • A biologist who studies genetic diversity in pigeons brought live pigeons to youth in custody facilities and discussed her research and careers in science.
  • Biologist Anna Vickrey shared her work on genetic diversity in pigeons during a lab tour for incoming freshmen with refugee backgrounds.
  • Biologist Anna Vickrey shared her work studying genetic diversity in pigeons at a science-themed day camp for homeschool youth. Activities included meeting live pigeons, making pigeon toys, and looking at feathers under a microscope.
  • Biologist Rebecca Bruders shared her work studying genetic diversity in pigeons by bringing postersand pigeon themed activities to a children’s play group. Participants made feather headcrest hats, played pigeon card games, and met live pigeons.
  • Plant biologist David Parrott set up a table in the common area of a local senior living center to share plant themed puzzles and informational material.
  • Plant biologist David Parrott discussed his research with people who are incarcerated at a state prison as part of a science presentation series.
  • Plant biologist David Parrott shared his work with genetic mutations in plants at a science-themed day camp for homeschool youth. Children used microscopes to look for plants with genetic mutations.

  • Neuroscientist Shrinivasan Raghuraman visited a senior living center where he discussed the history of neuroscience research.
  • Neuroscientist Shrinivasan Raghuraman visited local senior centers where he discussed medical treatments developed from neuroscience research.
  • Neuroscientist Shrinivasan Raghuraman discussed his research on cone snails with students at Pacific Heritage Academy. Students looked at snail shells and the bony spur that the snails use to harpoon prey under microscopes.
  • A neuroscientist visited a secure youth facility where he described careers in science and invited students to use microscopes to practice making their own scientific observations.
  • A neuroscientist spoke with people who are incarcerated in two correctional facilities about new medical treatments being developed from cone snail venom.
  • A neuroscientist discussed his career path and research on cone snails with youth in secure care facilities.

  • Neuroscientist Ariadne Penalva visited a local senior center to discuss brain health and aging.
  • Director of the University of Utah’s electron microscope lab, David Belnap, gave a lab tour to incoming college freshmen with refugee backgrounds.
  • Virologist David Belnap partnered with an artist to design coloring pages based on 3-D computer models of virus structure. He shared a prototype of the book during a presentation for youth at a residential treatment center, a talk at a senior center, and a book club meeting at a local bookstore.
  • Biologist Gabrielle Kardon invited families affected by congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) into her lab to learn about ongoing research to better understand this condition.
  • Virologist Kelsey Cone discussed her genetics research with homeschooled youth at a science-themed day camp. Participants extracted DNA from peas and participated in a DNA sequencing relay race.
  • Virologist Kelsey Cone hosted a zombie-themed science night at Watchtower Café. Activities included a disease detective game, based on an activity prepared by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), where participants stepped into the role of a CDC agent and interviewed volunteer actors to identify the cause of a mysterious zombie outbreak. Players were entered into a drawing to win their own ‘zombie survival kit’.

  • Microbiologist Dara Niketic organized an event bringing together scientists and members of the public over a shared interest in tattoos. The event featured science tattoos, temporary science-themed body art, and discussions with local artists.
  • Microbiologist Morgan Wambaugh organized a science and pop culture trivia night at a local brewery, and quizzed participants on everything from pathogen-related history to popular science films.
  • Neuroscientist Shrinivasan Raghuraman discussed his research on cone snails with students at Pacific Heritage Academy. Students looked at snail shells and the bony spur that the snails use to harpoon prey under microscopes.

Environmental & Organismal Biology

  • Wildlife biologist Mark Chynoweth gave a presentation to members of an equestrian club and discussed wildlife sightings on equestrian trails with participants.
  • Wildlife biologist Mark Chynoweth partnered with students in secure youth facilities to carry out a citizen science project to identify web-based wildlife photos taken by camera traps.
  • Biologist and rock climber Jeremy Morris discussed biomechanics involved in rock climbing on a trip with Splore, an organization that hosts adaptive outdoor recreation activities.
  • Ornithologist JJ Horns provided bird identification training to Splore guides and created informational cards for guides to reference on future activities.
  • Ornithologist JJ Horns tabled at a local plant sale and shared materials on bird friendly plants, including posters and a bird-friendly shopping list.
  • Ornithologist JJ Horns engaged with people in a horticulture training program at a county jail to discuss the birds they might observe in the jail garden.
  • Ornithologist JJ Horns discussed his research on migratory birds in Turkey and Africa with seniors at a local senior center
  • Ornithologist Jordan Herman hosted a bird-watching trip for youth participating in a summer program at the Urban Indian Center.
  • Ornithologist Jordan Herman displayed materials relating to her fieldwork in Argentina at an Argentinian restaurant in Salt Lake City.
  • Biologist Bob Cieri discussed his work on lung structure and function at a science-themed day camp for homeschooled youth.
  • A biologist discussed his research on physiology with people who are incarcerated in two correctional facilities.
  • Marine scientist Julie Ann Koehlinger met with a local hospital’s “Green Team” to discuss how sustainability initiatives can both save money and protect local waterways. She provided laminated cards that could be used for messaging these positive effects to hospital employees and patients.
  • Ecologist Caitlin Littlefield met with children at a Boys and Girls Club to discuss how trees cope with stress. Participants compared the coping mechanisms of trees to those of humans. Together they brainstormed ways nature can help us handle stress.
  • Bird ecologist and musician Alice Boyle performed a prairie-themed musical show at a coffee house in Kansas that linked to stories of her experiences studying birds, the variable weather of great plains, and the ways that humans and animals cope with this environment. She also created a music video.
  • Biologists Johanna Varner and Erik Beever partnered with the Surly Pika Adventure Race in Pinedale, Wyoming to prepare an informative insert about pikas. The insert was included in race packets, which were distributed to all participants.
  • Ecologist Ben Koch worked with STEMAP to publish an article about how his research has affected how he prepares food for his family in the parenting blog Fatherly.

Health Sciences

  • Cancer researcher Julia Carleton met with a team of electricians to discuss her research on the ‘biological circuits’ responsible for causing cancer. She asked the electricians about the tools they use to address similar logic problems in electrical systems and gained a new perspective on her research topic.
  • Cancer researcher Julia Carleton participated in a breakout session at a college readiness conference for refugee youth where she discussed careers in health sciences and showed students how to use pipettes.
  • Cancer researcher Julia Carleton spoke about her research on the cancer genome and showed participants at a local DIY festival how to make “DNA bracelets” out of string and beads. The sequence of colored beads in each bracelet represented the genome of a different organism.
  • Cancer researcher Julia Carleton brought a DNA bracelet activity to a summer camp for homeschooled youth.
  • Epidemiologist Judy Ou partnered with a local community garden to discuss the health effects of gardening and created informational signs for the garden.
  • Epidemiologist Judy Ou discussed healthy eating at a local safety fair.
  • Cancer researcher Helena Lucente met with state legislators to discuss the role scientists can play in policymaking and shared her experience with other scientists on the Public Library of Science and American Society for Cell Biology blogs.
  • Public health researcher Celina Valencia visited a rural public library and had a “cafecito“/ coffee talk with local women who are mothers of young children. The group discussed the benefits of social support and friendships on improving health outcomes, particularly stress associated physiological inflammation.

Math & Engineering


  • Mathematician Greg Handy prepared informational cards incorporating outdoor sports and math for Splore guides leading adaptive outdoor recreation trips, to reference on trips.
  • Mathematician Greg Handy discussed the mathematics behind cross-country skiing and ski design with youth on a Splore ski trip.
  • Mathematician Greg Handy shared the math behind rock climbing with participants and guides on a Splore climbing trip.


  • An engineer partnered with an anthropologist and neuroscientist to deliver an interdisciplinary presentation on food production and healthy eating to people in a horticulture training program at a county jail. They worked with participants to create recipe cards incorporating scientific information about produce grown in the jail’s garden.
  • Civil engineer Carly Hansen discussed water resource management at a senior living center.
    Civil engineer Carly Hansen discussed career paths in engineering during a breakout session at a college readiness conference for refugee youth.
  • Mechanical engineer Marc Calaf visited a local senior center to discuss his research on wind energy.
  • Mechanical engineer Marc Calaf gave a lab tour to incoming college freshmen with refugee backgrounds.
  • Electrical Engineer Tom Becnel discussed his work developing a more efficient air quality monitoring device with citizens at a local community council meeting. He invited participants to contribute to a citizen science project by installing air quality devices at their homes.
  • Metallurgical engineer Krista Carlson discussed her career path and research on glass with students at several secure youth facilities. She has since received additional funding to continue working with youth in care.
  • Metallurgical engineer Krista Carlson shared her research on glass and her glass blowing hobby with people in a correctional facility.
  • Biomedical engineer Tara Deans led a DNA extraction activity using Gatorade at a science-themed summer camp for homeschool students.
  • Biomedical engineer Tara Deans and a team of her fellow researchers hosted a series of activities to give students at the Pacific Heritage Academy the opportunity to explore what it is like to be a scientist. Participants dressed up in lab coats, donned goggles, and tried their hand at extracting DNA.

Earth Sciences

Atmospheric Science

  • Atmospheric scientist Daniel Mendoza set up a table at the Neighborhood House summer celebration, an annual family friendly festival. He invited children to explore how filters work by running mixed bird seed through different strainers. Participants then connected this activity to how filtration masks protect us from breathing hazardous air pollutants. After the activity, Dr. Mendoza distributed air quality brochures that he prepared in both English and Spanish.


  • Geologist Kathleen Ritterbush participated in a children’s hike with Splore, an adaptive outdoor recreation organization, where she shared her knowledge of local geology and fossils along the trails.
  • Geologist Kathleen Ritterbush participated in a whitewater rafting trip in southern Utah where she shared her knowledge of the area’s unique geology.
  • Geologist Yusuf Jameel discussed local water research with community council members and learned about water management policies relevant to his work.
  • Geologist Olivia Miller wrote a children’s book about her research on the Greenland ice sheet. She partnered with a teacher in Greenland to translate the book into Eastern Greenlandic and Danish. Copies were delivered to a school near her field site.
  • Geologist David Wheatley discussed careers in geology at a college readiness conference for refugee youth.
  • Geologist David Wheatley visited an after-school program for refugee youth and showed students how to model the formation of natural waterways using water and bins of sand.
  • Geologist David Wheatley discussed the geology of a popular rock climbing spot on a Splore climbing trip.
  • Paleontologist Benn Breeden worked with youth from the Urban Indian Center to identify mystery dinosaur fossils.
  • Paleontologist Benn Breeden participated in a science-themed day camp for homeschooled youth and facilitated hands-on activities to demonstrate how paleontologists recover and identify fossils in the field.
  • Geologist Kendall FitzGerald accompanied youth on a rock-climbing trip in a protected watershed. She discussed the necessity of watershed protections by presenting a hands-on activity where participants created their own watershed out of clay to observe how water and pollution travel through the landscape.
  • Volcanologist Arianna Soldati published an article about the similarities between making chocolate and studying lava on the Chocolate University Online blog.

Physical Science


  • Chemist Victoria Russell led a series of hands-on chemistry activities for youth at a secure care facility. The three-week workshop involved a Halloween-themed demonstration, building “squishy” circuits using conductive putty, and a discussion of the steps to becoming a graduate student.
  • A biochemist met with youth in a residential treatment center to discuss how scientists use symmetry in chemical structures to develop more effective drugs. She then shared her enthusiasm for crafting by working with students to apply the principles of symmetry to create a pop up greeting card.
  • Biochemist Sarah Apple discussed the connections between science and art during presentations at local senior centers.
  • An electrochemist met with interns at a sustainability non-profit to discuss the chemistry behind sustainable products, and build batteries from fruits and vegetables with the group’s interns.
    A group of electrochemists discussed the science behind ski goggles with skiers at local resorts, and put together a flyer about avalanche beacons and the difference between different types of batteries.
  • A group of electrochemists visited two local senior centers and discussed the life cycle of medication– how it is discovered, how it is synthesized, and how to safely dispose of unused medication.


  • Physicist Kevin Davenport drew on his experience as a game designer to create a board game about physics. He partnered with a team of artists and designers to develop the game and tested it with fellow board game enthusiasts.
  • Physicist Ryan McLaughlin brought physics demonstrations to an after-school program for refugee youth.
  • Physicist Ryan McLaughlin discussed gravitational waves with people in a correctional facility.
  • Physicist Ryan McLaughlin discussed his work on lasers with participants at a local senior center.