ASCB Newsletter Nov 2013 - page 13

I would like to share a story that reminds me of the
diverse portals by which any of us can and should
be brought into the cause of science education. My
awareness of the importance of this cause began in
my lab, when my colleague Sandra Mayrand got
keen about reforming the way science is taught.
She had been doing pioneering work in the lab
but had begun to worry about the quality of her
children’s education in science at the local high
school. This angst sensitized her, and me, to the
important responsibility that we have to educate the
next generation about how science works, and I am
indebted to her for having raised my consciousness
on this point. Sandra has recently retired from her
career in science education, but will be keeping her
hand in the cause. I want to share her story with
readers of the
One afternoon in 1989 a Shrewsbury, MA, high
school student came home and casually mentioned
to his mother that the teacher in his honors
chemistry class said she’d had to put a particular
demonstration on hold because she’d been unable
to find a source of dry ice. The next morning
the student’s mother, a scientist at the Worcester
Foundation, which was just a few hundred yards
from the school, gave him a good chunk of dry ice
to take to class. This simple thing launched a new
career for that mother/scientist, Sandra Mayrand.
I have always thought of this moment as “one true
thing” (after the title of one of Anna Quindlen’s
books) because it was a single, rare event and because
it was so simple and thus “true.” Yet it had profound
The teacher thanked the student and told him
to also thank his mother. As it turned out, even a
reagent as simple as dry ice was hard to procure
through the school’s Byzantine purchasing system,
so Mayrand’s provision of it was as if a muse had
smiled down on the scene. Pondering this over
the next few days, Mayrand began to realize what
limited access science teachers had to the materials
they needed. And she was struck by the rush of a
simple, yet powerful idea: Maybe just helping science
teachers get their hands on materials could leverage
other help that was needed. Her seminal idea was
that the morale of science teachers would be lifted if
they knew that professional scientists wanted to help
and would like to collaborate with them in any way
they could. This concept was not new at the time,
but it was new to her and was definitely new to the
teachers in this community, and it was rhapsodically
So Mayrand launched a resource facility. Within
a few months, the middle and high schools in
town were being provided with an array of science
teaching materials that were not otherwise available,
From a Piece of Ice
Left to right: Bruce Alberts, then President of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences; Heather Venza,
an award-winning Shrewsbury, MA, high school biology student holding her prize, the iconic book Alberts
and co-authors had created; Sandra Mayrand; and Gertrude Elion, co-recipient of the 1988 Nobel
Prize in Physiology or Medicine, at a science teachers conference convened by Sandra Mayrand at the
Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research in 1994.
on Education
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