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