Spring 2024

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Image courtesy of Wisconsin Evolution


Jassim Al-Oboudi, a Ph.D. student in microbiology, recalls a flash of inspiration from his childhood. He was watching a PBS documentary at home, in Los Angeles.

“I remember being 7 or 8 and learning about super massive black holes and deciding right there and then I wanted to be a scientist,’’ he says. “Here was something so amazing, and it actually exists in the world. I remember it really opening my mind and grabbing my attention.”

Today, Al-Oboudi is one of the graduate students from Wisconsin Evolution (also known as the J.F. Crow Institute for the Study of Evolution) who are exposing the next generation of kids to the life-changing stuff of science. The group organized the annual Darwin Day festivities to mark the mid-February birthday of Charles Darwin, the 19th century naturalist known for major contributions to evolutionary biology — and to celebrate intellectual curiosity.

This year, the events were held at the Discovery Building on the UW campus and included science activities for kids and an art show on the theme of variation. After several years of events that were partly or fully virtual due to the pandemic, Al-Oboudi says it was great to get back to in-person events. Younger children seem drawn to the hands-on and tactile science experiences, he says, while teens seem to gravitate to science that relates to their everyday life and topics they care about, such as climate change. And it’s fun to see kids show up excited for science, he says.

“We’re showing them that the natural world is sometimes stranger than fiction,’’ he says. “In fact, it gets weirder the farther you get into the wild world of science. I’m a scientist, and I see things every day that surprise me.”

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