Meet Our Scientists in the June 2015 Spotlight


Get to know the scientists who will be at our next Scientist Spotlight and meet them in-person on Saturday, June 6. Each month, Scientist Spotlight features two rounds (11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 2 – 5 p.m.) of local scientists who share their research with hands-on activities and engaging conversations at Pacific Science Center. Scientist Spotlights are included with general admission and are FREE for Members. Meet our scientists in the spotlight this month:

Brad Dickerson, University of Washington, Biology

Brad Dickerson Activity title and description:

“Lessons in Flight” will explore how movement helps us sense the world around us and how insects sense their environments during flight.

Why did you get into this field of science?
As a kid, I was interested in marine biology. In high school, I was even lucky enough to try a short research project one summer. However, as I entered college, I did not have a good sense of what marine biologists did and started to tell people I wanted to be a doctor or biomedical researcher. At the end of my freshman year of college, we had a guest speaker who was an expert in nearly all aspects of insect flight. This was not only the first time I learned how professors spent their time (I went to a very small college), but also the first time I learned how big and varied the world of research is. As I gained broader educational experiences and tried my own hand at research, I started to appreciate using tools from engineering and math to answer questions in biology. After college, I knew I wanted to pursue a Ph.D., and spent some time narrowing down both my field of choice as well as my list of potential mentors based on their use of these tools. Rather fortuitously, these interests have brought me into the field that sparked my initial interest in a research career.

Give us a science fact not very many people know about:
Houseflies have tiny structures called halters that act as gyroscopes. These help flies maintain their balance when they are flying around your living room.

What do you like to do when you’re not in the lab?
Outside the lab, I serve in the union representing academic student employees, UAW 4121. Early on in graduate school, I led a team that, in conjunction with Seattle’s EMP Museum, developed educational resources for Avatar: The Exhibition, which is now touring the U.S. I also enjoy running, fixing up my new bicycle, learning about U.S. history, and occasionally blogging.

Susan Fung, University of Washington, Neurology

Susan FungActivity title and description:

“When Good Cells Go Bad” will explore when your immune cells help tumors grow.

Why did you get into this field of science?
My great grandmother had a stroke when I was just starting college and my parents didn’t know how to explain what had happened to her. I asked a lot of questions and I happened to take an intro cognitive science course that following semester and got hooked; that’s what I ended up majoring in.

Give us a science fact not very many people know about:
The brain and spinal cord are separated from the rest of the body by a special barrier- it’s your very own gated community within your body.

What’s your favorite tech gadget?
Circulating water bath/sous vide because it’s something that scientists have been using for years and now it’s starting to gain traction as a way to cook food. I also have a soft spot for parafilm (I think its way cooler than saran wrap) and magnetic stirring hot plates.

Wambura Fobbs, University of Washington, Neuroscience

Wambura FobbsActivity title and description:

“Packing for Planet X: The Neuroscience of Decision Making” explores what goes on in the brain that leads to decisions made when posed the hypothetical question: “If you were an astronaut tasked with exploring a newly discovered planet, what would you pack in your spaceship?”

Why did you get into this field of science?
From a young age, I’ve been interested in understanding how other people’s experiences differ from my own. This interest coupled with my love of biology classes initially attracted me to studying sensory perception and psychology, but has since evolved into a curiosity about the neural basis of reward processing and motivated behaviors.

Who is your favorite scientist and why?
If I had to say one, it would probably be Carl Sagan. He was an accomplished scientists and author, but more importantly, he was a great science communicator and advocate. He consistently made an effort to make science accessible and interesting to everyone. Another scientist that has greatly influenced my decision to pursue this career is V. S. Ramachandran. His article in Scientific American Mind about synesthesia sparked my desire to pursue neuroscience research. In fact, I began working in a neuroscience lab the summer of 10th grade after reading the article, and I have been working on neuroscience research ever since.

Give us a science fact not very many people know:
The pineal gland is the only brain structure that is unpaired – meaning that there is only one pineal gland in the middle the brain rather than one in each hemisphere.

What is your favorite science fiction movie and why?
My favorite science fiction movie is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I love the way it explores the role of memory in relationships and introduces technology that allows individuals to erase their memories. While it may seem outlandish, there actually are efforts going on in neuroscience research to engineer such technologies for use on individuals who have experienced debilitating trauma.

Dr. Sheila Ganti, University of Washington, Comparative Medicine

Sheila GantiActivity title and description:

“Cancer: Good and Bad Cells” explores how cancer cells can be removed by our own immune systems, but other times, the cancer can overwhelm our defenses. How can we harness the power of our immune system to attack these abnormal cancer cells?

What was your first science experiment?
In second grade, I tested the effect of sunlight restriction on pea plant growth.

Who is your favorite scientist and why?
My favorite scientist is Leonardo da Vinci. He was such an out-of-the-box thinker, and his work demonstrates the creative approach needed to answer scientific questions.

Give us a science fact not very many people know about:
Humans have 600-700 lymph nodes. These are small, bean-shaped structures where an immune response can take place. You have probably felt these lymph nodes near your throat when you have a cold.

Traci Mikasa, Infectious Disease Research Institute

Traci MikasaActivity title and description:

“Vaccines: Keeping You and Everyone Else Safe” will explore how vaccines help your immune system detect diseases, and explore the challenges that researchers face when designing new vaccines.

Why did you get into this field of science?
I had the opportunity to spend several months in Kolkata, India, and witnessed firsthand the need for safe, effective, and affordable vaccines.

Who is your favorite scientist and why?
Bill Nye the Science Guy – he got me hooked at a young age because of how he presented science to the public in a relevant and fun way, because science is fun!

Give us a science fact not very many people know about:
Two identical looking liquids at the same volumes can feel like very different weights. In the lab, we never get tired of this when working with chemicals. Someone will grab a bottle thinking its light, when actually it’s quite heavy.

What is your favorite science fiction movie and why?
Inception; it just requires so much thinking and conversation, plus, does the top ever stop spinning?!