New YNS camps dig into NSF-funded root science

September 8, 2017

High school students work in labs at UNL's Beadle Center during a Young Nebraska Scientists camp focused on microbes.

In the summer of 2017, Nebraska EPSCoR’s Young Nebraska Scientists program began camps connected to a National Science Foundation project researching plant science to help better feed the world.

The NSF grant established the Center for Root & Rhizobiome Innovation, a Nebraska research collaboration spanning several universities. Scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK), University of Nebraska Medical Center and Doane University conduct lab and field research studying root exudates, soil diversity, organisms’ genetics and more—including outreach to help the public understand their work.

UNL Biochemistry’s Karin van Dijk hosted a YNS camp for high school students, Life Underground: The Unseen Power of Microbes, and UNK Biology’s Paul Twigg and Julie Shaffer led a middle school YNS camp about agricultural biotechnology. Both of these camps, and other topics, are planned for 2018 with registration starting in January.

The middle schoolers’ AgBiotech camp took place at York Public Schools, with Twigg and Shaffer guiding hands-on science activities indoors and outside, to share deeper understanding of the crops nearby and our food sources.

The Microbes camp took advantage of UNL facilities and expertise at the Beadle Center, as well as Nebraska Innovation Campus, with its robotic greenhouse for extensive plant testing, and the Dairy Store at East Campus, where food and agricultural research is a growing strength.

One HS camper said, “I learned that (YNS camp) was very jam-packed with things to do and learn about. During this experience I gained the knowledge that I could use to apply to more advanced labs (than encountered in high school so far). I learned a more applied version of what I learned my freshman and sophomore years (biology and chemistry). This gave me experience my other peers do not have, from only school labs.”

“It’s a lot of fun, and gives your brain a workout,” another Microbes camper said. “You get to meet a lot of awesome people, work with helpful and kind professors, and get to stay in the dorms and see the campus. I would highly recommend it.”

In summary: “My experience with YNS was one of the most fun and educational camps I have ever been to. It gives you the experience of working in a higher level lab which is the best experience you can get in your high school career. This camp will help you determine whether a job in a lab is for you. It gave me the perspective of a professional setting of the job of a researcher.”