St. Louis Scientists Invited to the White House

The White House honored individuals for their dedication to increasing public engagement in science and science literacy.

St. Louis, MO, July 13, 2013 --( Donald Danforth Plant Science Center’s director of science education and outreach, Dr. Terry Woodford-Thomas and Dr. Cindy Encarncion, director of life sciences at the St. Louis Science Center, were invited to the Champions of Change awards program on June 25, 2013 at the White House.

The event recognized American citizens’ contributions to their communities and highlighted “citizen science” projects across the nation. White House officials participated in a discussion with honorees to learn more about the impact on scientific advances as a result of efforts by citizens, including many non-experts, to engage in scientific research.

The Champions for Change event was held in the South Court Auditorium at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House and was attended by more than 150 individuals from across the nation who had developed and successfully implemented noteworthy citizen science projects. Representatives of the Obama administration, NASA, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey were in attendance.

Twelve honorees were invited to discuss their work and the challenges they faced while conducting their citizen science projects. The focus of projects included open source space exploration, studies of bioluminescence, data collection for zoning laws and enforcement, monitoring watersheds and asteroid research.

Dr. Woodford-Thomas and Dr. Encarncion, were invited to attend the event because of their contributions to a White House report on the impact of citizen science programs across the nation, as well as for leading Backyard Biofuels, a collaborative program between the Danforth Plant Science Center and St. Louis Science Center.

With funding from the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy, the Backyard Biofuels project opened to the public in 2010. Since then, thousands of algae collection kits were distributed and several hundred “algae hunters,” ranging from the age of six to adults contributed algae from across the nation. The Backyard Biofuels Project not only contributed valuable sets of naturally-occurring oil-producing algae to bioenergy scientists for investigative research; importantly, it allowed students whose interest in science could be enhanced by working side-by-side with “real” scientists in cutting-edge research laboratories to be identified and nurtured.

“Citizen science drives people to engage in discovery, both scientific discovery and self-discovery. It also helps to translate this understanding of science into action,” said Dr. Woodford-Thomas.

For three years, a celebration of “All Things Algae” or Algae Palooza, was held at the Saint Louis Science Center to engage citizens in various activities such as algae identification from pond water, making biofuel from plant vegetable oil, painting with algae, making algae ball “bling”, observing science grade algae photobioreactors in action and meeting Danforth Center scientists engaged in algae biofuels research.

“It is very encouraging that the Office of Science and Technology Policy recognizes the important role that ordinary citizens can play in scientific research,” said Dr. Encarnacion. “The public truly enjoyed participating in the discovery of algae species as possible sources of biofuels in our ‘Backyard Biofuels’ project. It was a rewarding scientific partnership between the Saint Louis Science Center and the Danforth Plant Science Center, and we are glad that the White House acknowledges that our project was a valuable endeavor with long-term STEM educational and societal benefits.”

Dr. Ellen McCallie, program director for informal science education in the Directorate for Education and Human Resources at the National Science Foundation spoke at the event. “What better way to learn science than to do science?" said Dr. McCallie. “It takes a hands-on, minds-on approach to engaging people. No matter what the age or background of a person, participating in citizen science projects generally increases their interest and understanding of science."

The White House report on the impacts of citizen science programs was particularly focused in helping to recruit young people into the realm of science, especially minority youth.

About The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science. Research at the Danforth Center will feed the hungry and improve human health, preserve and renew the environment, and enhance the St. Louis region and Missouri as a world center for plant science. The Center’s work is funded through competitive grants and contract revenue from many sources, including the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center invites you to visit its website,, featuring interactive information on the Center scientists, news, education outreach and “Roots & Shoots” blog help keep visitors up to date with Center’s current operations and areas of research. Follow us on Twitter at @DanforthCenter.
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Melanie Bernds
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