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Gut Decisions (based on science) during the Pandemic

As her everyday routine began to shift due to Covid-19, Dr. Jin Montclare found innovative ways to #SciEngage and support her community, including donating PPE from her lab to nearby hospitals. Read about her impressive adaptability in today's PES Blog.

 

For me, work and life was always hectic even before the pandemic. I care deeply about the research we do in my lab, the trainees and lab members, teaching my classes, engaging with budding entrepreneurs and encouraging the next generation in STEM.  And I’ve been juggling these work activities alongside raising two children with my husband. School and childcare have been an essential part of our routine that I had taken for granted, until now.

While I am grateful that we are all safe (including all my trainees and students) during this crisis, my work and life, like many with children, has become even more hectic.  Prior to this, I was able to provide undivided attention to my research, educational, entrepreneurial and outreach activities as long as my kids were occupied. Now I simply cannot. If I am in a virtual meeting or teaching on Zoom, the folks on the other end have an 85% chance of hearing my children in the background and even higher likelihood of my toddler wanting to say hello and speak with them. And I don’t blame her, since she has been deprived of being outside and playing with her friends.  While I have been apologetic to the people on the other end, this is the reality of the situation and I just let it go. My gut tells me it’s OK.

Twitter screen grab
Twitter screen grab captured by author.

And it is my gut that I now lead with during this pandemic.  In early March, it was clear that Covid-19 was starting to impact our hospitals and so I closed down my lab a couple of days before the university required us to for the safety of my trainees. With the surging need from first responders for personal protective equipment (PPE), my lab and I decided to coordinate a collection of whatever PPE we and others in our department had for donation to our neighboring hospitals. I tweeted this out and folks began contacting me, leading to a second donation a week later.

 

Twitter screen grab
Twitter screen grab captured by author.

On a more personal level, I have also begun helping my eldest daughter and her class by teaching them science online.  During the pandemic, NYC schools closed down and their teachers underwent training for distance learning. During the week they were training, the parents provided lessons for the class and I volunteered to teach science. My gut told me it was important for the kids to understand why they were in this situation, so I cobbled a lesson together (see below), my first time trying my hand at a K-12 lesson.

 

 

 

Lesson 1: Acid, Bases, Indicators and Covid-19 Lesson

I started talking about what acids and bases are, asking the children what examples in their house they could provide. They came up with vinegar, orange and lemon juice for acids and soap for base. I then explained pH and indicators and how indicators can change color based on pH. I made some cabbage juice indicator and had 4 cups of clear solution in which one had some dissolved baking soda.  I asked the kids which solution was basic and they were able to correctly determine which one based on the cabbage juice color change from purple to blue.

I then took the basic solution and then poured some of it into the neutral solutions.  The neutral solution became basic (turned blue from purple) as the children predicted. I made the analogy that the change from neutral to basic was akin to a person getting infected with Covid-19 through contact with another infected person. 

Photo courtesy of author.

Then I showed them the Covid-19 simulation from the Harry Stevens Washington Post Article and asked them to predict what would happen under forced quarantine, social distancing, and extreme social distancing. They all made predictions and we let the simulations run. This helped them understand why school was being closed and why they were isolating at their homes, in way that was not scary. The kids were engaged and the feedback I received from them was positive.   

I have come to the realization that my gut decisions have been informed by my scientific understanding of what’s been going on. And I think it’s important that more people make decisions based on a solid understanding of science, especially during this pandemic. While there are all sorts of news that may distort the truth, scientists like Drs. Anthony Fauci, Kizzmekia Corbett and many others have been shining a light on science.

Now more than ever, it is important that the public listen to scientists and develop a scientific gut. In fact, my lesson for the kids was a way to aid them in creating their own “scientific gut”.  They are the next generation and our future leaders. Therefore, it is important to teach them about various science topics and help them develop their own abilities to think critically about the information they are receiving. We are all experiencing unprecedented times during this pandemic and we will get through this together. But these lessons do not end with Covid-19.  The scientific gut is a tool that can be used for a lifetime.

About Jin

Jin Montclare-Headshot

 Jin Kim Montclare is a Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at New York University and research focuses on engineering proteins to mimic nature and, in some cases, work better than nature.  She is also active in the local community and encourages STEM beyond the university walls developing K-12 outreach programs with an emphasis on women and minority students. As the director for the Convergence of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) Institute, she is integrating entrepreneurship within the engineering curriculum as well as across the entire university for undergraduate and graduate students.

 

She'd love to hear from you! Follow Jin on twitter at @jkmontclare or send her an email at montclare@nyu.edu.

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