Physicist to Filmmaker: Introducing Quinn Spadola, NNCI‘s New Associate Director of Education and Outreach
NNCI is a network of open nanotechnology laboratory user facilities, supported by the National Science Foundation, with its Coordinating Office headquartered at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The 16 sites of the NNCI are dedicated to addressing the explosive growth of nanotechnology and its need for a skilled workforce and informed public by offering education and training to individuals from young schoolchildren through adults. Dr. Quinn Spadola recently joined the team as the NNCI Associate Director of Education and Outreach.
Dr. Quinn Spadola (far right) with the 20108 participants of the NSF funded Research Experience for Undergraduates in Nanotechnology at the Marcus Nanotechnology Building.
Both your B.S. and Ph.D. degrees are in physics, and much of the research you performed, such as research on optical tweezers and DNA sequencing using Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) techniques, seems heavily weighted towards experimental rather than theoretical work. What led you down the path to hands-on research and how do these two sides of research support each other?
I participated in an REU and then did a senior thesis project. Both of those opportunities helped me learn that I really like being in a lab. I was a double major as an undergrad in physics and chemistry, so I went through all those chemistry lab classes, as well. I don’t come from a family with scientists or engineers, so when I got to graduate school, I really didn’t know what I was doing. But, when I started, I was accepted into an NSF-funded Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program in Biomolecular Nanotechnology. One of the physics professors associated with it was interested in having me in his lab because of my background. I spent a lot of time doing hands-on things like organic synthesis and working on an AFM. At the same time, all of those theory-oriented physics courses were useful for understanding the underlying reasons that things behave the way that they do. Having that perspective will always help one to make better research decisions.
You also pursued an MFA in Filmmaking. What led you to leave the lab for a role as a science communicator?
During my time at ASU, I became a Center for Nanotechnology in Society- Biodesign Fellow, and started a “Science Cafe” series in the Tempe/Phoenix area. I paired scientists and engineers with someone from the humanities (like a historian, legal scholar, or philosopher) in order to discuss research, risk, and public benefit. I always made sure there was lots of time for questions. The audience -- primarily adult non-scientists -- was always eager for the chance to have a real conversation about a topic that was important to them. This is when I realized how much I enjoyed creating opportunities for people to engage with scientists and engineers.
While I was finishing up my PhD, I was looking for a way to continue to do outreach with non-specialist communities. My husband noticed a program at Montana State University, Science and Natural History Filmmaking, which would give me a chance to combine 3 of my favorite things; film, physics, and science communication. The program taught me how to tell a story, which is harder than studying physics!
You spent 3 years in Japan after your MFA. What took you to Japan?
This would be a classic case of a dual-career balancing act. My husband, who also got his PhD at ASU, agreed to move to Montana and take a post-doc at Montana State University (not his first choice), with the understanding that we would move to the best place for his career once I finished up my MFA. I should have set some geographic boundaries, but didn’t, so we ended up in Kobe, Japan, after he took a post-doc at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology.
Why did you become an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow? Has working in the realm of D.C policy-making changed how you view the science education conversation?
I learned about this fellowship while I was at ASU. It was always at the back of my mind as something I’d like to do. I was also able to participate in Science Outside the Lab as a grad student and science policy has interested me since that experience. As we were finishing up our time in Japan, I was looking for my next step and the fellowship made a lot of sense.
During my time at the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office (NNCO), I was able to work with people from many different federal government agencies, all working to support nanotechnology R&D. Everyone I met works hard to make the best decisions for US science. I don’t think working in DC changed my view on science education and outreach. I was specifically involved in that while I was there. I got to do what I saw as the fun stuff, and people know it is important and I always felt like my efforts were appreciated. Honestly, it makes me sad when I hear people complain about the government. If they had any idea how hard bureaucrats in science funding agencies work to be good stewards of federal dollars and to advance US research, they’d have so much more respect for the institution.
Can you discuss the importance of effectively communicating research findings to wider, non-technical audiences? Are institutions failing in this role of general community education?
I think failing is a strong word. Many people in the scientific community realize the importance of science communication. Maybe, sometimes, it is all about self-promotion. But, less cynically, there are plenty of scientists and engineers who know it is important that people have some kind of understanding of what they’re supporting. Personally, I see it as a real obligation for scientists and engineers who use federal money.
With the rise of information access, there has been a coalescence of conspiracy groups online who often flood comment sections with pseudo-science and misinformation. Do persistent conspiracy arguments frustrate you? How do science communicators best combat this kind of disinformation?
Of course misinformation frustrates me! But, there are some people who just aren’t going to be open to what scientists have to say. I think the best science communicators can do is reach as many different audiences as they can with accurate information. If you can reach someone in the life of a person who believes the conspiracies, people THEY trust, you can create an advocate that may be able to make an effective change.
Implantation of a stent-like flow diverter can offer one option for less invasive treatment of brain aneurysms – bulges in blood vessels – but the procedure requires frequent monitoring while the vessels heal. Now, a multi-university research team has demonstrated proof-of-concept for a highly flexible and stretchable sensor that could be integrated with the flow diverter to monitor hemodynamics in a blood vessel without costly diagnostic procedures
The sensor, which uses capacitance changes to measure blood flow, could reduce the need for testing to monitor the flow through the diverter. Researchers, led by Georgia Tech, have shown that the sensor accurately measures fluid flow in animal blood vessels in vitro, and are working on the next challenge: wireless operation that could allow in vivo testing.
The IEN Organic Cleanroom houses the Bioforce Nano eNabler Printer/Patterner. The eNabler is a multifunctional surface patterning platform for dispensing attoliter to femtoliter volumes of biomolecules, nanoparticles and other liquids onto a wide variety of surfaces. The system is based on BioForce's proprietary FEMTO (Fluidics Enhanced Molecular Transfer Operation) process. This technology enables the deposition of the 1-50 um sample droplets quickly, precisely and with reduced clogging. It can accommodate samples up to four inches in size.
Current applications include applying sensor coatings as well as depositing arrays of bio-molecules.
For more information contact Contact: Blake Cotney at email@example.com
New inVia Qontor Raman system
The Materials Characterization Facility has acquired a brand new Raman system from Renishaw. The inVia Qontor Raman system, at the moment, has two lasers (488 and 785) and features a new Livetrack system (http://www.renishaw.com/en/livetrack--38126) which allows you to perform an analysis of a surface that is curved, rough, or uneven.
With this new Raman system you can:
Keep your view of the sample in focus while you survey it under manual control
Raman-map rough, uneven, and curved surfaces
Little or no sample preparation is required
View Raman chemical images in 3D and see both the chemistry and the topography
No need for a time-consuming surface pre-scan
Maintain focus during dynamic measurements, such as sample heating/cooling and during very long measurements when the environmental conditions are varying
Built-in reference sample, no need to bring in an external standard to confirm the system is operating well
To get trained on this system, please contact MCF staffand we will be happy to work with you.
Mark Prausnitz was appointed as a Fellow of the Controlled Release Society at their annual meeting in July, 2018.
Education & Outreach NewsSTEM Session With East Point Police Department
Quinn Spadola and Leslie O’Neill of the SENIC/IEN education team along with Stephanie Douglas of Government and Community Relations at Georgia Tech, recently held a STEM session on nanotechnology for the East Point Police Department’s EAST POINT SUMMER SAFETY INITIATIVE PROGRAM. The program is a free summer camp offered to 80 youths between the ages of 6 and 16 years old, who are either City of East Point or Fulton County residents.
During 2 hour-long sessions, Quinn and Leslie taught the kids about nanotechnology, what’s special about the nanoscale, and some current applications of nanotechnology. All the children had a great time and were especially excited about hands-on demos which illustrated how difficult it is to work at the nanoscale, that our noses are nanosensors, and how we can observe the effect of changes made at the nanoscale (i.e. kids love Magic Sand!).
SAVE THE DATE -Materials Science SEM and X-Ray Microanalysis Short Course @ the Materials Characterization Facility
October 8 & 9, 2018 | Materials Characterization Facility | Marcus Nanotechnology Building
Participants will be introduced to sample preparation methods for conductive and non-conductive materials and SEM operating parameters for imaging them. For accurate elemental analysis, the conditions for qualitative and semi-quantitative energy dispersive x-ray analysis will be covered. Attendees will have a opportunity to try the methods, hands-on, with their own samples.
More information and registration will be announced as the course date approaches.
Lars Pleth Nielsen is the director of the Tribology Centre at the Danish Technological Institute. His team works with customers to invent, advance, and industrially deploy coating technologies. Coatings are thin layers that cover most of the materials made today. They can offer protection from the environment, impart different surface properties, and more. On this episode of Nanovation, Lars recounts a variety of stories from his research career, ranging from his exploration of the reaction of hydrogen and oxygen as a child to the “super slip” coating he’s currently working to bring to market. We also discuss his outstanding two-volume book titled Advanced Surface Technology that he co-authored with his colleague and friend Per Moller, and which is considered by many to be the Bible of coating technology. (Recorded on May 3, 2018. Edited by Andrew Cannon)