About Us

Open Minds: Teen Science Cafés

We have held the last Open Minds: Teen Science Café for the 2013-2014 school year. Please join us again in October when we kick off a new season!

Open Minds: Teen Science Cafés bring teens together in an informal setting to learn about science and technology. Each café will include a real scientist to speak on chosen topics, an interactive activity relating to the discussion, food, and time to meet other teens that enjoy science. The cafés are led by a Teen Advisory Board, which selects the programs and the speakers. This nationwide program is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The North Carolina network partners include the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Morehead Planetarium and the North Carolina Museum of Forestry.

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If you are a high school science teacher in the Triangle area and would like to receive more information about this program, please email or call Lynn Cross at lynn.cross@naturalsciences.org 919-707-9882 with your name and school affiliation.

Past Cafés

April 4, 2014

Getting from A to B: Making Ocean Connections

Marine creatures use an array of strategies to move throughout the ocean; to move is vital to finding food, habitat, and mates. The path marine creatures use to get from A to B is a source of fascination for many scientists, but directly tracking organisms across vast spatial and temporal scales is daunting.  To approach this question, marine scientists can study known populations and use genetics and computer models to predict what factors influence the distribution of life throughout the sea. In this Teen Science Café, Doreen uses her study organisms, cownose rays and deep-sea invertebrates, to explain the fascinating ways organisms move and connect with each other.

About the Speaker

Doreen McVeigh is a doctoral student in Marine Science at North Carolina State University. Her current work looks at larval dispersal of deep-sea invertebrates throughout the Atlantic Ocean using modeling and molecular tools. Originally from Chicago, Doreen received her B.Sc. in Biology from Sweet Briar College, and M.Sc. in Environmental Biology from Hood College, studying the population genetics of cownose rays in the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico. In her spare time, Doreen is a hunter/jumper equestrian, competitive Irish Dancer, and SCUBA diver. 

March 7, 2014

Wearable Robotics

Scientists from the Human PoWeR (Physiology of Wearable Robotics) Lab at NC State University demonstrated a thought-controlled, lightweight, air-powered exoskeleton. This device, designed to assist or enhance human movement, uses a non-invasive technique called surface electromyography (EMG) to turn motor commands from the spinal cord into controlled muscle movement of the legs. Attendees could even “test-drive” our thought-controlled artificial muscles!

About our Speakers

Ben Robertson graduated from Emory University in 2008 with a degree in Applied Physics. During his undergraduate studies, he did research in bio-inspired robotics and single molecule biophysics. Following graduation, he had a two-year fellowship at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in the Division of Brain Dysfunction and Blast Injury studying the mechanics of traumatic brain injury.  Ben is currently a PhD student in the Human Physiology of Wearable Robotics (PoWeR) Laboratory at the North Carolina State University. In the PoWeR Lab, he has been able to combine his love of physics, robotics, and neuroscience to study the neuromechanics of functional gait, and the impact/effects of wearable robotic exoskeletons.  

Dr. Kota Takahashi received his doctorate degree in Biomechanics & Movement Science at the University of Delaware. He is currently a postdoctoral scholar in the Human Physiology of Wearable Robotics (PoWeR) Laboratory at the North Carolina State University. He studies the design of prosthetics, orthotics, and robotics to improve walking ability in people with limited mobility.

February 7, 2014

Lions and Tigers in Trees: How Insect Predators Protect Our Urban Forests

The most famous quote about entomology is attributed to Einstein (though we don’t know if he really said it!): "If the bee disappears off the surface of the globe, man would have no more than four years to live." We rely on bees for food, and we know that without them, most of us would die of starvation. But insect predators, like parasitic wasps, are our less-celebrated superheroes, protecting the crops and trees that we need in order to survive from other insect pests. In this Teen Science Café, Emily talked about why we can’t live without insect predators and what we know about how we are changing their well-being — and, therefore, our own — as we change the Earth. She discussed her current research on scale insects and the effects of urban heat islands.

About the Speaker

Emily Meineke is from Greenville, North Carolina. She is currently pursuing her PhD at NC State University in Entomology and spends a lot time staring at tiny insects in the trees. Learning about insects is both her work and her hobby. She loves sharing her passion for insects with kids and often visits schools to talk about them. She also keeps a blog about her work and interests and contributes to other blogs as a guest writer. When she isn’t teaching, writing, or thinking about insects, she’s reading, running, or cooking, usually with her fiancé Joe.

January 3, 2014

Starry Translators: How Telescopes Help Astronomers Interpret the Universe

On the most remote mountaintops sit some of the world’s most advanced technological marvels. Telescopes dot the globe, collecting light that has travelled billions of years to reach us. But what happens to the light after it hits these enormous mirrors? How do telescopes turn that light into information that astronomers use to decode the universe? In this Teen Science Café, Josh will discuss how telescopes work and collect light, and you will have a chance to practice and see for yourself the different ways astronomers use light. He will also talk about his recent trip to the Southern Astrophysical Research Telescope in Chile, which is the telescope he uses for his research at the University of North Caroliina (UNC).

About the Speaker

Josh Fuchs is a graduate student at UNC at Chapel Hill pursuing a Ph.D. in Astrophysics. He got his undergraduate degree in Physics from Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. This spring he will receive his Masters in Astrophysics from UNC. His research involves a type of binary star system called a cataclysmic variable. His interest in astronomy developed in college when he started tinkering with a camera and a telescope in his free time. Though he never successfully got a good picture, his desire to study the physics of the universe grew. In his free time he plays percussion in the Chapel Hill Philharmonia and enjoys playing soccer and ultimate Frisbee with friends.

December 6, 2013

Brain Messages: How Neurons Communicate with Each Other, Our Bodies, and the World

Our brains enable us to perceive, think, and act.  How do individual neurons, the cells that make up every brain, work together to carry out such complex jobs?  At this Teen Science Café, Caroline Drucker will explain how neurons communicate and how scientists study these special cells.  We’ll discuss and explore neuronal signaling by trying to send messages among our group as effectively as neurons!  Caroline will also discuss some of her own research in monkeys investigating how numbers are processed in the brain and how we can alter brain activity from the outside.

About the Speaker

Caroline Drucker is a graduate student in Duke University’s Center for Cognitive Neuroscience pursuing a PhD in Neurobiology.  She earned her Bachelor of Science at Yale in Psychology and Mathematics, and now combines those two interests by studying how the brain processes numbers.  Caroline’s primary research subjects are rhesus monkeys.  While these intelligent animals perform mathematical tasks, Caroline can use transcranial magnetic stimulation to alter their brain function non-invasively, and also record their neural activity.  Outside the lab, Caroline enjoys cooking, running, and attending many of the Triangle area’s theater and sporting events.

November 1, 2013

The Science Behind the Sniff: What Does the Dog's Nose Know?

Dogs have been trained to sniff out explosives, illegal drugs, missing people, human remains and much more. Working dogs’ abilities may seem magical or mysterious, but in this Teen Science Cafe, Cat Warren shows the multifaceted science, the rigorous training, and the skilled handling that underlie the amazing abilities of dogs who work with their noses.

We'll look at training samples, watch video of scent dogs working, and consider some recent rigorous scientific studies that both explode myths and confirm what we know: under the right conditions, the dog’s nose has amazing capabilities.

About the Speaker

Cat Warren is an associate professor at North Carolina State University, where she teaches science journalism, editing, and reporting courses. She has an admittedly odd hobby: She and her German Shepherd have spent the last seven years searching for the dead. Solo is a cadaver dog. What started as a way to harness Solo’s unruly energy and enthusiasm soon became a calling that introduced Warren to the hidden and fascinating universe of working dogs, their handlers, and their trainers. 

Her new book What the Dog Knows: The Science and Wonder of Working Dogs chronicles her experiences training Solo to be cadaver dog, stories about other working dogs and the people who love and manage them, and of her research into how dogs smell and why that matters.

She lives with her husband, David, and two German Shepherds, Solo and Coda, in Durham, North Carolina. 

October 4, 2013

How Many Raccoons Are There? Counting animals with Mark-Recapture

One of the most important pieces of information that a wildlife biologist seeks is how many animals there are in a given population. This information can tell us if a population is increasing or decreasing over time and the effect of human activities such as conservation efforts, global warming or habitat destruction. Mark-recapture is arguably the most accurate method for estimating population size in mammals. Join Arielle Parsons as she explains the method and shares findings from her own work with raccoons on the Outer Banks. Then, she will lead us through our own mark-recapture study to see how accurately we can estimate the population of teens at the Open Minds: Teen Science Café.

About the Speaker

Arielle Parsons is a researcher in the Museum’s Biodiversity and Earth Observation Research Lab where she coordinates eMammal, a citizen-science camera trapping project to survey mammal species. Arielle is interested in mammalian and avian ecology and human-wildlife interactions but her particular expertise is raccoons. Most of her work has involved measuring population dynamics such as abundance and survival through different methods. Her work has taken her to the wilds of Canada, the mangrove swamps of West Africa, the Australian outback and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. When she’s not working, Arielle relaxes by practicing martial arts and running around with her dogs.

May 3, 2013

Simple Rules to Move By: Coordinated Movement in Groups of Animals and Teenagers

New research on animal movement is revealing how the amazing coordinated movements of animal groups, such as schools of fish or flocks of birds, are an emergent property of each individual following a few simple decision rules. At our May 3rd Open Minds Teen Science Café, Dr. Roland Kays will review these recent findings, and explain how he is testing some of these results in primates, for the first time, with a new baboon tracking program in Kenya. Then, he will lead us through an exercise to see if we can use flocking behavior like animals to effectively move through space and avoid predation!

About the Speaker

Dr. Roland Kays is the Director of the Museum’s Biodiversity and Earth Observation Research Lab.  He is also a Professor in the Fisheries, Wildlife & Conservation Program at NC State University, and a Research Associate at the Smithsonian.  Roland is interested in how, where, and why animals move, and his research typically involves bringing the latest technology into the wild parts of the world to discover new things. His work has allowed him to explore tropical rainforests, African savannas, and suburban woodlots.  His primary expertise is with mammals, and he has published papers on lions, coyotes, sloths, agoutis, ocelots, and kinkajous.  However, he feels that any species can lead to good research if the scientific question is interesting, and he has also worked on toucans, egrets, orchid bees, and even the movement of plant seeds.  His field work often involves running around in the woods chasing after animals, and to stay in shape between projects he plays ultimate Frisbee, rides off-road unicycles, and tries to keep up with his two young sons.

April 5, 2013

Plague:  New Lessons from an Ancient Disease

At our April Open Minds: Teen Science Café, Dr. Bill Goldman from the University of North Carolina will talk about plague, the deadly disease that changed the course of European history during the Middle Ages.  Why do scientists continue to study this disease, and what can it tell us about the evolution and emergence of highly virulent pathogens?  Dr. Goldman will provide insight into modern research on the bacterium Yersinia pestis and how we can continue to learn about new diseases by understanding old ones.

About the Speaker

Bill Goldman is Professor and Chair of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Prior to that appointment in 2008, he was on the faculty of Washington University in St. Louis for 25 years.  His laboratory’s research focus has been on the pathogenesis of several infectious respiratory diseases, including histoplasmosis, pertussis, and pneumonic plague.  With interests spanning both fungal and bacterial pathogens, Dr. Goldman has served as Editor of the journal Molecular Microbiology (2001-2008) and has also been elected to chair conferences on microbial pathogenesis, including a FASEB Summer Research Conference (2000) and a Gordon Research Conference (2002).  He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology (since 2002) and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (since 2012).  Dr. Goldman enjoys talking about his lab's research and has been invited to give more than 200 lectures at international conferences, research institutions, and regional meetings in the U.S. and 16 other countries.

It was a high school biology course that got Dr. Goldman fascinated with microbiology, and this interest grew in college (at Indiana University in Bloomington) and graduate school (at UNC-Chapel Hill).  He is excited to be back in North Carolina, though he misses Major League Baseball and his beloved Cardinals.  His wife, Virginia Miller, is also a microbiologist at UNC-Chapel Hill, and he has a college-age daughter who is firmly committed to a non-science career.  Dr. Goldman plays ragtime and classical piano, and he enjoys photography, bicycling, and making pizza from scratch every weekend.

March 1, 2013

WAAZM Adventures of a Museum Veterinarian

In the vast field of veterinary medicine, WAAZM is the acronym for Wildlife, Avian, Aquatics & Zoo Medicine, and it refers to all the critters that fly, swim, creep, crawl, prowl or prance across any given habitat in the wild or in a zoo. Join Museum veterinarian Dr. Dan Dombrowski for a fun review of veterinary medicine as it applies to this diverse group of animals. We will discuss the similarities and differences between common and unusual species and review real strange and bizarre cases such as surgery on a fish in the water and exoskeletal repair of a millipede. Then we will test your animal knowledge with a trivia game!

About the Speaker

Dr. Dombrowski is currently the chief veterinarian at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences (NCMNS) and Adjunct Faculty at the North Carolina State University (NCSU) College of Veterinary Medicine. He grew up in Hampton, Virginia, where he met his wife of over 20 years and best friend in high school biology class. They now have 2 great kids and lots of pets, and have lived in Raleigh since 1998.

From 1990 to 1996, Dr. Dombrowski attended Virginia Commonwealth University, where he earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Biology.

Dr. Dombrowski then worked for eight years as a Research Laboratory Technician in a pharmacology lab at the Medical College of Virginia and for three years at the Museum as Curator of the Tropical Conservatory. From 2002 to 2006 he attended vet school and earned his D.V.M. from NCSU. In 2006, he received the Wildlife, Avian, Aquatic, and Zoological Medicine (WAAZM) Proficiency in Zoological Medicine Award.

Dr. Dombrowski has been an author and coauthor of several publications in pharmacology, natural history, and two book chapters focusing on invertebrate medicine. His interests include wildlife health and conservation, science education and veterinary medicine. He also enjoys collecting geodes and building with Star Wars Lego kits.

February 1, 2013

Assembling the Tree of Life 

How do we know birds are modern-day dinosaurs?  At our February Teen Science Café, Dr. Daniel Ksepka from the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham will talk about how scientists reconstruct evolutionary trees using the physical characteristics of organisms, and then we will try our hands at creating a tree for a set of mysterious metal organisms.

About the Speaker

Dr. Daniel Ksepka is a paleontologist at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center on Duke Campus. He grew up in New Jersey, home of the first American dinosaur skeleton, and studied geology at Rutgers University as an undergraduate. Later, he earned a PhD in paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, where he counted himself among the luckiest people in the world to walk past a giant millipede, a life-size blue whale model, and the original Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton every morning on the way to his office.

Dr. Ksepka's research focuses on the evolution of birds, and has brought him to Peru, South Africa and New Zealand in search of new fossils. In the past few years, he has taught classes in paleontology and evolution at North Carolina State University. Many NCSU students have worked in his lab and have discovered giant fossil turtles, created rapid prototypes of extinct bird brains, and surveyed the microscopic structure of fossil penguin bones. In his spare time, Dr. Ksepka enjoys bird watching, grazing his pet tortoises and rooting for the New York Giants. You can learn more about Dr. Ksepka's research at his blog "March of the Fossil Penguins" and you can follow him at KsepkaLab on Twitter.

January 4, 2013

What’s in My Water?

At our January Teen Science Café, Dr. Heather Patisaul from North Carolina State University will talk about where our drinking water comes from, the difference between tap and bottled water, the pros and cons of the different types of containers our water comes in, and the environmental and health impacts of our water consumption choices.  Then, we will put your taste buds to the test in blind taste-tests to see if you can tell the difference between different types of water and liquids stored in different types of containers.

About the Speaker

Heather Patisaul is an Associate Professor of Biology at NC State University. She grew up on the beaches just south of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and got her Bachelors in Zoology at the University of Florida.  She then got her Ph.D. in evolution and ecology at Emory University in Atlanta, and did field work with lemurs in Madagascar before moving to North Carolina.  She has always been interested in how our environment, from what we eat, to what we drink, and how we live, shapes our brain and behavior.  She is also very concerned about how human activity impacts the planet and the environment.

Her current work explores the potential health consequences of exposure to chemical contaminants such as plasticizers and flame retardants, found in our homes, food and water.  Heather is also an avid runner, and her first race of 2013 will be the Krispy Kreme Challenge. Last year she managed to eat only one doughnut.  This year she’s hoping to double that rate of consumption, and still finish ahead of her 13 year old son without getting sick.

November 2, 2012

Looking for Life in Outer Space

Dr. Rachel Smith, Director of the  Astronomy & Space Observation Research Laboratory at the Nature Research Center and Assistant Professor at Appalachian State University. Tour of astronomy exhibits to follow. 

October 5, 2012

What Makes a Zebrafish Nervous?

Fear, anxiety, and stress responsiveness in animals, just in time for the most fearful month of the year. NC State University Department of Zoology professor Dr. John Godwin. 

September 7, 2012

Going, Going, Gone?

Status of Earth’s rainforests, what teens can do to help conserve them, and methods scientists use to delve into their secrets.  Nature Research Center director “Canopy” Meg Lowman, a pioneer of tree-top exploration and conservation.

About the Cafés

Open Minds: Teen Science Cafés are funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation with additional support from Time Warner Cable. Not only are these science cafés specifically targeted toward teenagers, but the Museum’s Teen Advisory Board will select topics and speakers for these cafés and will be instrumental in their implementation. 

Open Minds: Teen Science Cafés will also be hosted by teen groups in Chapel Hill in collaboration with Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, and in Whiteville at the Museum of Forestry as part of building a regional café network. 

These programs are part of a network of teen science cafes across the country funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

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Publish Date: 
Thursday, August 30, 2012