Bidle Brings Science from Rider Labs to Lawrence Children

Thursday, March 4, 2010

For almost 20 years, Dr. Kelly Bidle, associate professor of Biology, has thrived in the research lab studying how microorganisms adapt and thrive in extreme environments. In fact, it was exposure as an undergraduate student to research on hydrothermal vent communities that led her to pursue a Ph.D. studying the living conditions of extremophiles. Her fascination with these unusual microbes has supported her research career that encompasses the fields of microbiology, genetics, molecular biology, and bioinformatics.

“I became interested in these organisms that live in really strange and extreme ecological conditions such as high temperatures or high quantities of salt,” said Bidle, who studied at the University of Maryland’s Center of Marine Biotechnology and later, Scripps Institute of Oceanography. “It all began when I was a graduate student and was fascinated to learn how hyperthermophiles, a type of extremophile, can live in environments with temperatures more than 100 degrees Celsius, the boiling point of water.”

Since that time, Bidle’s research has mainly focused on various organisms and their extreme ecological conditions. Currently, six Rider students are working in Bidle’s lab on two different projects involving Haloferax volcanii, a salt-loving organism that lives in the Dead Sea. One group is taking a look at how the organism deals with stress, and the other group is exploring how it responds to light and darkness akin to the circadian rhythm, Bidle explained.

Recently, Bidle has become involved with a new initiative that has allowed her to share her passion for science and research with another group of students. Bidle was recruited to serve on the organizing committee for the Lawrence Intermediate School’s inaugural Science and Inventions Fair. The fair, which will feature projects by 130 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students, will be held on Saturday, March 20, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Lawrence Intermediate School. Some of the student projects will include a steam powered boat design, testing a variety of citrus fruits to conduct electricity, and using different liquids to grow plants.

“I think it’s important for students at a young age to learn what science is about, to ask questions and find out how things work,” said Bidle, a Lawrenceville resident. “The ultimate goal of the fair is to teach students the scientific method and an understanding of good science.”

The organizing committee is composed of parents, who are mostly scientists, including chemists, biologists and a computer scientist. Bidle’s husband, Dr. Kay Bidle, an assistant professor of Biology at Rutgers University, is also serving on the committee. The couple’s oldest son is a fifth-grader at the school.

Bidle has also recruited a number of Biochemistry and Biology students and faculty from Rider to participate on the day of the fair. Rider faculty members, who will judge the student projects, include Dr. Todd Weber, associate professor of Biology; Dr. Danielle Jacobs, assistant professor of Chemistry, Dr. Bryan Spiegelberg, assistant professor of Chemistry; Dr. Johannes Dapprich, a Science and Technology Advanced Research Institute fellow; Dr. Shawn Wild, adjunct assistant professor of Biology; and Dr. Peter Hester, associate professor of Teacher Education.

In addition, Michelle Madigan, a senior Secondary Education and Chemistry dual major, Stephanie Lauer, a senior Biology major, Shaina Palmere, a senior Biochemistry major, Natalie Baggett, a junior Biology major, Joseph Park, a junior Biology major, Ian Hakkinen, a senior Biology major, and Ashley O'Brien, a junior Biochemistry major, will coordinate a series of hands-on experiments for the students to complete while the judging takes place.

“These activities have been funded by Rider’s Office of University Advancement,” Bidle said. “We are very grateful to acknowledge the generous support of Rider in helping to make the event both fun and educational for the students of Lawrence Intermediate School.”

Bidle said many of the Rider students who are volunteering their time are either interested in teaching science in the future or have a passion for community service. For example, Madigan started her own mentor program as a freshman through the Martin House. Each year, she recruits a group of 15 students to conduct hands-on science experiments as part of an after-school program in Trenton. They also donate school supplies.

“At the end of the program, we’ll ask ‘Who wants to be a scientist?’ and the majority of the students will raise their hands,” Madigan said. “It’s awarding to see that they had fun and that we made an impact.”

Since January, the Science and Inventions Fair committee members have took turns running a weekly after-school science and inventions lab where students participating in the science fair to learn about the scientific method through hands-on activities. For example, Bidle taught a lesson about termites and her husband taught a lesson about water density.

On Tuesday, March 2, four students from Rider taught a basic chemistry lesson to about 30 students. Those students included Michelle Madigan, a senior Secondary Education and Chemistry dual major, Alyssa Brown, a senior Biochemistry major, Justin Klosek, a senior Chemistry major, and Stephanie Lauer, a senior Biology major. The Rider students conducted an experiment using milk and food coloring to demonstrate how soap breaks down fats and oils, Madigan explained. They asked the younger students to come up with a hypothesis, make observations and analyze the results.

“The fair is a way to get kids interested in science when they are young because science is used for everything,” said Madigan, who is student teaching biochemistry at West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North. “We wanted to show the students that science is really hands-on.”

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