Music and humor reign at Nebraska’s latest science slam | Nebraska today

“She’s a super teacher! Super teach! Super teacher…Yyyeeeooowwwwww!”

Singing a “Super Freak” parody that would make “Weird Al” Yankovic proud, Crystal Uminski recently put on a show that earned her applause, a $1,000 prize and a spot at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s latest science slam . .

Held on August 18, the virtual and live event continued Nebraska’s legacy as the first WE the university to embrace the Science Slam – a sibling of the Poetry Slam whose performers compete to communicate their science with as much verve, style and wit as they can.

Uminski topped off the meeting with his musical tribute to the late Rick James and the event prompt: “Tell us about a time during your research when you discovered you were wrong.” Inspired by a panel in Nathan Pyle’s comic series “Strange Planet,” the notice prompted the slammers to consider what knowledge their incorrectness conveyed, how it helped them grow, and how it benefits the scientific process.

“Great scientists, I think, fully embrace and appreciate being proven wrong,” said Jocelyn Bosley, event organizer, co-presenter and research impact coordinator for the Office of Research and Economic Development Nebraska. “One thing I love about all the talks … is (that) you really get a sense of the emotional journey that science is.

“This is science. It’s not just about being objective and in the lab. Science is all experience. It’s a roller coaster, but it’s amazing.”

Unbeknownst to her, Uminski bought a ticket for that trip the moment she stepped into the head of a high school classroom, taking on the challenge of teaching biology and earth science after putting together a full college transcript. of grades A.

“I was convinced I would make a great teacher,” said Uminski, now a three-time science veteran, first-time winner and doctoral student in biological sciences at Nebraska. “But then I started teaching, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

“I got to these times where I was really stressed, overworked, underpaid and, like, frantic. And I would make not-so-great educational choices. I ended up relying too much on lecturing and memorizing facts about science. And, not surprisingly, no one he was having a blast in my class, including me. I’d be halfway through this lecture and half my class would be half asleep.”

So Uminski began to approach his instruction as a scientist would approach a research question. He made observations: Were his students awake? Were they engaged? He collected data in the form of homework questions, quizzes, and tests, and then analyzed it to evaluate various teaching methods.

“Once I started thinking about education as a kind of scientific process, I was hooked,” Uminski told the audience, explaining why she decided to study. STEMeducation based in Nebraska. “But it took a lot of mistakes to get to this point, and those mistakes really helped inform the work I do now.”

Then came the song, an the chapel tour de force that helped Uminski win 36% of the more than 160 audience votes and lent credence to the adage of the third time being the charm.

Six other slammers, ranging from undergraduates to grad students to professors, also joined the fray. Some were Huskers, performing from the local confines of Lincoln. Others participated from elsewhere in the United States or, in the case of Puerto Rican Yarelis Acevedo and Brazilian Leonardo Parreira, even abroad.

If Uminski’s musical stylings propelled her to victory, it was a visual gag from Parreira that earned her second place, and the biggest laugh of the night. But Parreira incorporated the humor from the get-go, introducing himself with a bit of “Catch-22”-worthy absurdity.

“Since I don’t speak a word of English,” he began, “my life partner and good friend George wrote all the things in English for your better understanding. So I’ll read it to you.

“‘Hello everyone. This is George. Everything that idiot Leonardo says, I wrote it down.'”

George/Leonardo proceeded to shuffle a deck of cards, each with a potential side effect of a chemotherapy drug. He showed one to the camera – “Erectile Dysfunction” – told the audience to memorize it, then, like any magician worth his wand, made it disappear. This magic, the Brazilian would explain, came from the Brazil nut. While studying potential contraindications to the side effects in rats, Parreira fed the rats one Brazil nut a day in hopes of finding evidence that it might combat their erectile dysfunction. Two years later? nothing

“In science, we learn that every outcome is an outcome, even the bad ones,” said George/Leonardo. “So Leonardo decided to increase the amount of Brazil nuts that were given to the rats. We know that Brazil nuts act directly on the testes,” he said, eating a Brazil nut, “they increase testosterone levels.” he continued, eating another, “sperm production,” another, “and probably libido.”

As if by magic, Parreira’s gray tie began to lift from his white dress shirt, rising to a 120-degree angle as his eyes darted sheepishly to the right. George/Leonardo finally got his bearings, pulling his tie back onto his shirt before explaining that, yes, multiple nuts a day finally did the trick.

Wini Waters, meanwhile, told a story that played like a conversation piece with Uminski’s: She enrolled as a doctoral student at Nebraska with hopes of embarking on a research career. Only later did he reject the hypothesis that he wanted to join academia, which he eventually left to teach high school chemistry in Chicago.

Each of the seven performances epitomized what Ashley Foltz described as “how to succeed in failure,” either by mistaking a standard electrical current for a technological triumph or while struggling for a year to extract it. DNA of roundworm bacteria.

“It’s not just the results; it’s the process,” Bosley said of science. “It’s not about the answers; it’s about the questions. Being wrong raises a lot more questions, sometimes, than being right. And questions are what drive the progress of science. science”.

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