Music, humor reign at Nebraska’s latest science slam | Nebraska today

“She is a super teacher! Great lesson! Super teacher… Yyyeeeoowwwwww!”

Creating a “Super Freak” parody that would make “Weird Al” Yankovic proud, Crystal Uminski recently put on a show that earned her cheers, a $1,000 prize and a spot at the top of the slam. degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. .

Held on August 18, the live virtual event continued Nebraska’s legacy as the first US university to embrace the science slam: a sibling of the poetry slam, whose performers compete to communicate their science with as much courage, style, and wit as they can.

Uminski more than topped the crowd with her musical tribute to the late Rick James and the event’s prompt, “Tell us about a time during your research when you found out you were wrong.” Inspired by a panel from Nathan Pyle’s comic series Strange Planet, the prompt prompted critics to think about what knowledge their mistake gave them, how it helped them grow, and how the scientific process benefits from it.

“Great scientists, I think, fully embrace it and want to be proven wrong,” said Jocelyn Bosley, event organizer, co-organizer and research impact coordinator with the Nebraska Office of Research and Economic Development. “Something I love about all the talks … is (that) you’re really getting a sense of the emotional journey that is science.

“That’s what science is. This is not just about being objective and in the lab. Science is all experience. It’s a roller coaster ride, but it’s great.”

Unbeknownst to her, Uminski bought a ticket for that trip the moment she moved to the head of a high school class, taking on the challenge of teaching biology and earth science after amassing a college transcript filled with A’s. .

“I was convinced I would make a great teacher,” said Uminski, now a three-time Science Slam veteran, first-time winner and doctoral student in biological sciences at Nebraska. “But then I started teaching – and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

“I would get to these moments where I was just stressed, overworked, underpaid and just frantic. And I would make not-so-great educational choices. I ended up relying heavily on lectures and memorizing facts about science. And surprisingly, no one was having a good time in my class, including me. I would be halfway through this lecture and half my class was half asleep.”

So Uminski began to approach her instruction as a scientist with a research question. She made observations: Were her students awake? Were they engaged? She collected data in the form of homework questions, quizzes, and tests, then analyzed it to evaluate different teaching methods.

“Once I started thinking about education as a scientific process, I was drawn in,” Uminski told the audience, explaining why she decided to study. STEM-Nebraska-based education. “But it took a lot of failures for me to get to that point, and those failures really helped inform the work I do now.”

Then came the song, one hat The tour de force that helped Uminski win 36% of the 160 audience votes and gave credence to the phrase third time’s a charm.

Six other attackers, ranging from graduate students to college students, also joined the fray. Some were Huskers, performing from the local borders of Lincoln. Others participated from elsewhere in the United States or, in the case of Puerto Rico’s Yarelis Acevedo and Brazil’s Leonardo Parreira, even abroad.

If Uminski’s musical stylings propelled him to victory, it was a visual gag from Parreira that earned him second place — and the biggest laugh of the night. But Parreira instilled humor early on, introducing himself with a bit of catch-22-worthy absurdism.

“Since I don’t speak a word of English,” he began, “my life partner and good friend George wrote all the stuff in English for better understanding. So I’m going to read it for you guys.

“‘Hello everyone. This is George. Everything this idiot Leonardo says, I wrote it.’

George/Leonardo proceeded to shuffle a deck of cards, each with a potential side effect of a chemotherapy drug. He showed a camera – “Erectile Dysfunction” – told the audience to memorize it, then, like any magician worth his salt, made it disappear. This magic, the Brazilian would explain, came from the Brazil nut. While studying the potential side effects in mice, Parreira fed the mice one Brazil nut a day in hopes of finding evidence that it could combat their erectile dysfunction. Two years later? Nada.

“In science, we learn that all outcomes are outcomes – even the bad ones,” said George/Leonardo. “So Leonardo decided to increase the amount of Brazil nuts offered to the rats. We know that Brazil nuts act directly on the testes,” he said, eating one Brazil nut, “increasing testosterone levels,” he continued, eating another, “sperm production,” another, “and maybe libido.” .

As if by magic, Parreira’s gray tie began to rise from his white dress shirt, rising at a 120-degree angle as his eyes darted to the right. George/Leonardo finally got his bearings, dragging his tie down on his shirt before explaining that, yes, multiple Brazil nuts a day finally did the trick.

Wini Waters, meanwhile, told a story that played like a crossword to Uminski’s: She enrolled as a doctoral student at Nebraska expecting to launch a career in research. Only later did she reject the hypothesis that she wanted to join academia, which she eventually left to teach high school chemistry in Chicago.

Each of the seven performances embodied what Husker forward Ashley Foltz described as “how to be successful at failure,” whether mistaking a standard electric current for a technological triumph or struggling for a year to pull off. DNA from bacteria to roundworms.

“It’s not just the results; it’s the process,” Bosley said of the science. “It’s not about the answers; it’s about questions. Being wrong raises a lot more questions, sometimes, than being right. And questions are what drive progress in science.”

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