Smile Politely

The Beckman Open House makes complex research accessible to the community

A large white paper with numbers printed all over it. There is a paper plate with a cup with blue dye in it, and droppers. Some of the paper is covered in the blue dye.
Julie McClure

DNA is a difficult thing to wrap your head around. The microscopic nature of a cell, and then a nucleus within a cell, and then this material within the nucleus — then knowing that there are millions of these within an entity such as a human being, or cat, or strawberry. The latter has about one million cells, and at one exhibit at the Beckman Open House, you can mix a few ingredients and actually see that strawberry’s DNA with your own eyes.

View inside a plastic cup. There is a reddish pink liquid with a cluster of white substance along the edge of the cup.
Julie McClure

Since 1997, Beckman Institute has opened their doors every other year to the C-U community so that researchers can share the work they are doing each day in that massive building on the north end of U of I’s campus. According to Lexie Kesler, outreach specialist for Beckman:

The Beckman Institute was built to bring people together. Open house is an opportunity for us to extend that circle of bringing people together. It’s community members engaging in authentic conversations about scientific advances and what they might mean for the future. It’s researchers sharing their excitement for what they do. And it’s young students envisioning themselves as the next generation of problem-solvers.

In 2021, the event went completely online, so this is the first in person open house since 2019. The planning for something like this happens through the year. Says Kesler, “our team already has ideas for what we can do next time!” Any lab or group is invited to present their work at the open house. The important part, is that they communicate that work in an engaging way. A goal of this event is to increase science literacy for people in the community — especially kids. I stopped by the friends and family preview Thursday evening, so the first floor of Beckman was filled with youngsters, and I noticed that every team had interactive exhibits prepared that could help explain the complex research they are doing in a way that even preschool and elementary school kids could understand. And, if I’m being honest, as a non-science-brained person, that sort of presentation helps me too. Open house goers will have the opportunity to engage all of the senses as they explore the offerings from Beckman’s interdisciplinary research teams. As Kesler puts it, “the hands-on, interactive exhibits invite visitors to become the scientist. They can be a microscopist exploring the unseen world of pond water, a chemist creating new, innovative materials, or a psychologist studying how different activities impact our brain.”

A shield, Ironman mask, club, and green  fist on a stick are sitting on a table. There is also a monitor that says Sustainable Plastics: Reduce, Repurpose, and Regenerate.
Julie McClure
There are four different colored vials sitting on a table with a light behind them. A small child's hands are resting on the table. Behind the vials are two bowls filled with candy.
Julie McClure
There are two sets of over the ear headphones, one mint green and one light purple, sitting on a a table. They are connected to small black boxes with a green light and a blue button.
Julie McClure
A bunch of orange tipped nerf darts are set up in a grid. There are blue balls of clay sitting on top of them. There is also a small brown fuzzy stuffed spider.
Julie McClure
There are a series of cards with pictures of fruit on them lined up on a table. Below them are MRI images of the fruit lined up.

Of course, you will also be able to check out the MRI exhibit, with the famous “Big Red”, the first human MRI machine.

A large red box with a hole in the center. A white platform runs through the hole.
Julie McClure

Kesler emphasizes the interactive nature of the event, and how it’s truly meant for all ages. A good place to start is downloading Beckman app. “It includes the titles, descriptions, and tags for each of the exhibits. This allows visitors to search for age or interest-specific exhibits. We have also put together an interactive science scavenger hunt that visitors can play virtually or with stamps and paper.”

The open house runs Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Engineering Open House is also happening during those times, so you’ll find a lot to do in that part of campus. You can find free parking for the event in the B17 lot at the corner of Clark and Harvey in Urbana. This is a unique opportunity to experience some of the amazing research that happens at Beckman, so be sure to carve out some time to explore this weekend!

More Articles