Paint by Numbers and Zoom in on Life in Hands-on Biotech

March 21, 2024

Uncover the hidden world of biotechnology, an increasingly important field in our daily lives. From COVID vaccines to drought-resistant crops, scientists use this cutting-edge field to solve all sorts of pressing problems. Visitors to The Lawrence can get an introduction to biotechnology and its current and potential uses in our Hands-on Biotech exhibit!

We believe that by engaging with Hands-on Biotech, visitors will gain a deeper appreciation for the impact and potential of biotechnology.

Lee Bishop, biotech and design lead at The Lawrence

Hands-on Biotech is an interactive journey into how scientists use gene editing and other biotechnology. With guidance from our enthusiastic facilitators, often UC Berkeley students, visitors explore the microscopic worlds inside all living things, learn about the technologies we use to peer into these worlds, and discover biotechnology as a powerful tool to adapt and apply life’s processes to answer questions and meet critical challenges like climate change, disease, and more.

“It is rare for a science center to have hands-on experiences in fields as new and complex as biotechnology,” said Lee Bishop, biotech and design lead at The Lawrence. “So, we are really happy that we’re able to bring programming like this to our visitors, especially given how important biotech is, both locally and globally.”

The exhibit rotates seasonally between featured activities, providing different opportunities to explore and create. Visitors may remember painting and creating art using plant- and algae-based pigments in our Bio Painting activity or separating model cell parts using real science tools in our Centrifuge Cells activity. Each activity allows visitors to express their creativity and explore the tools of the trade used by scientists every day.

Our current featured activity, Pipetting Rainbows, is no different. It gives visitors the chance to train with a real scientist’s tool called a pipette. Scientists use pipettes to very accurately measure and move tiny amounts of liquid for research and experiments. In the activity, young scientists learn to use the pipette by moving colorful liquids into a tray of small wells. They can pick one of our templates to guide them in placing the colors to create a little picture with the pipette. Think of it like a scientific paint-by-numbers!

A Lawrence educator teaches a child how to use a pipette
A Lawrence Hall of Science volunteer shows a young visitor how to use a pipette

“We want to give people a full-breadth picture of what biotech can be,” said Lee Bishop. “That’s why our activities feature lots of different tools, techniques, and current and potential applications of biotechnology. We believe that by engaging with Hands-on Biotech, visitors will gain a deeper appreciation for the impact and potential of biotechnology.”

So, how did The Lawrence come to have a biotechnology exhibit in the first place? It started with our desire to develop new exhibits and activities around science topics that significantly impact people’s lives. Biotechnology is a prime example, enabling individuals and communities to address pressing challenges like climate change. Biotech is also an economically powerful industry that struggles with employing a workforce representative of the nation and the communities surrounding biotech hubs like the Bay Area. Hands-on Biotech was developed to broaden understanding of and engagement with this critical field of science.

Moving forward, Lee and his team hope to develop additional featured activities and new opportunities to engage with the exhibit. One potential area of interest is exploring biosensors, like fitness trackers and other technologies people use every day to get biological data.

In the meantime, make sure to visit Hands-on Biotech this spring! The main exhibition will temporarily close during the summer to accommodate our intrepid summer campers. However, during this period, there will be a pop-up Biotech activity featuring seeds and their microscopic structures on A-level. Explore the ribosome, learn to use microscopes, discover and touch different biomaterials, and more while you still can. We’ll see you in the laboratory!

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