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Don't be intimidated by science, WISE urges

Professor Gary Wessel discussed reproductive technologies in fertilization in the first of a lecture series designed to make science research more accessible for students without extensive science knowledge. The series is called "Quicknotes" and is sponsored by Women in Science in Engineering.

Standing in MacMillan 115 Tuesday afternoon, Wessel eagerly addressed the group of about 20 students on comparisons between sea urchin fertilization and human fertilization. The talk, titled "Matchmaking," highlighted specific mechanisms of fertilization that create the perfect match between a sperm and an egg. Wessel also introduced guest speaker Dr. Peter Klatsky, from Women and Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, who talked about assisted reproductive technologies in medicine.

Wessel supplemented his lecture with many photos and movies depicting sea urchin fertilization. One of his preliminary slides was a photo collage of eggs from various organisms. He pointed to one particular picture and told his audience, "This is what you look like before fertilization."

Wessel explained that sea urchins make ideal organisms for fertilization research because they are capable of producing a large amount of eggs. "Their insides are mainly guts and gonads," he said. He followed this comment with a picture of uni, the sea urchin sushi, along with wasabi and ginger. "I'm more a fan of the wasabi and ginger," Wessel joked.

Though the hour-long lecture was about scientific topics, Wessel used analogies to explain biological terms to students without a science background. The "zona pellucida," became a halo surrounding an egg, and various science ideologies were likened to the Democrat, Republican and Independent parties.

Halfway through the lecture, Klatsky talked about infertility in humans and clinical treatments performed on patients. Klatsky, a research fellow in Brown's biology department, said he is interested in the long-term effects that assisted reproductive technologies have on human development and health.

Both Wessel and Klatsky interacted with the students throughout the lecture -Wessel even sang about beluga whales - and took questions at the end of each of their segments. Wessel also invited students to come visit him and Klatsky in their labs at Sidney Frank Hall.

Klatsky detailed statistics on infertility, and explained mechanisms behind IVF. Sri Kalyan '09 said the lecture"was an effective way of making a medical issue approachable from a broader standpoint."

Event coordinator Elaine Tamargo '11 said "the event is a great way for professors to talk about their research to students of all backgrounds. It's entirely casual, so no one has to feel stressed about taking notes."

The idea of science lectures, with their technical terminology, Tamargo said, could be potentially overwhelming for students without an extensive background. "Quicknotes" is a way for these students to feel more at ease and learn about interesting topics, she said. She said she plans on having two more mini-lectures this semester and three in the spring.

The series was started two years ago, but only hosted sporadic lectures. Professor Julie Kauer will deliver the next "Quicknotes" lecture on tissue engineering, scheduled for November 24.


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