February 15, 2018
“Curiosity is what drives science. Period. Without it, our discipline loses its heart, its soul. Because of this, experiments that pique and foster the growth of curiosity in learners are the most important labor anyone in this field can partake in.” This is why Athens State Biology Education student, Tevin Terry, agreed to organize a “Bug Mug Shot Competition” during the Fall semester of 2017. The project was designed to engage local 9th and 10th grade students in the science of electron microscopy.
Athens State owns and operates a Scanning Electron Microscope which is used for research and digital microscopy courses. This is different from the standard light microscope seen in the K-12 classroom. With the help of magnifying lenses, light microscopes can view a specimen magnified up to 1,000x, whereas Athens State’s SEM uses electron particles to image objects at magnifications as high as 100,000x. Utilizing this technology, Terry drafted the framework for a contest that would engage local students.
Students were tasked with capturing insects to send to the University for imaging. Once the samples had been imaged, a winner was chosen based on the consensus of a panel of Biology students at the University. The contest winner was an Eastern Hercules Beetle (Dynastes tityus), submitted by 9th grader, Bradley Thomas, who is currently being homeschooled. Eastern Hercules Beetles are the largest beetle native to the Eastern U.S., reaching up to 2.4 inches in length when fully grown. Thomas received a gift card donated by Books-A-Million as well as a gift package from the Admissions Office and University Bookstore. The student winner was also invited to campus where he met with Dr. Ronnie Merritt, Chair of the Math, Computer, and Natural Science Department, and received a tour of the Athens State campus and science laboratories by Terry and Dr. Sara Cline.
While conducting this project, Terry acquired several skills relating to his future career goals. As part of this project, he learned digital microscopy techniques and the art of adjusting protocols to changing laboratory conditions. “The specimen was so massive,” Terry explained, “that getting an image of it proved challenging, seeing how our objective is only about the size of a quarter. So, I had to break out the ole dissecting tools and bring it down to size!” In addition, he says he learned social relationship skills and best practices for conducting an extracurricular program in a formal education environment. “The results obtained were a great end to a lot of hard work. Engaging K-12 students is the best practice any institute of higher learning can engage in,” Terry stated. “Not only does the action attract new students who can attend the University, but it also piques interest in academic studies that will grow into wonderful discoveries and future careers.”