Feeding stem cells and watching Waterbears: the Buck opens its doors to the public

We have had a long friendship with the folks at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. They do some great work up on the hill in Novato (you can read about the work we have funded at the Buck here) Now they have a brand new Learning Center that is going to let them train the next generation of scientists and provide the public with an up close look at stem cells, science and the research they are doing.

We asked Julie Mangada, PhD, the Education Outreach Coordinator at the Buck to tell us about the new facility. Here she is, in her own words:


The Learning Center is a hands-on science learning space. It’s really a way for the Buck Institute to throw open our doors and invite the public in; and by the public I mean K to gray. I am charged with all our K-12 education outreach but in my mind that means K to gray, all ages, because we never stop learning so with this Learning Center we can actually invite the public to come on up here and feel connected to the research that we do, because it belongs to all of us.

There are so many barriers out there between scientists and the public so this is our way of breaking down those barriers and really helping people understand what we do and helping them feel connected to our work, and helping them take ownership of what we do, because its going to change the way medicine is practiced.

The Learning Center has lab benches, it’s set up to be a wet lab, we have a tissue culture facility where people can feed stem cells, they can actually look at the differentiated progeny of the stem cells, they can look at cancer cell lines, cancer stem cells, any number of cell lines.

The public can come in on a tour and, if they like, take those stem cells out of the incubator look at them under the microscope and hear from one of the scientists who do that research how they take care of these cells and what those cells are going to be used for and the implications that has for the public.


We also do a lot of outreach for schools. We work with teachers who bring students into the Learning Center and run hands-on activities that supplement and support what the teachers are doing. The teachers know the California state standards and so our responsibility is to work with the teachers, figure out what they are teaching in the class and come up with some hands-on activities that bolster what they are teaching in school. We just want to get the kids excited about science in a tangible way and in a way that the kids can connect with so that the teachers’ job is easier.


Stem cell research is one of my passions and this lab is also set up as sort of a hub of stem cell education. The research we do belongs to everybody so there really needs to be a room where the public can come and learn and feel comfortable. You can’t do that in a science lab because there are a lot of nasty dangerous things in real science labs, so it’s wonderful to have this space where I can purposely order only non-toxic chemicals, and feel as safe having third graders in here as octogenarians. This room gives us the tools and resources to let people do all the things we do in the lab in a safe way, and in a way that they can understand. Without this room visitors would just get a lecture and, while lectures are important, its so much better to bring people in here and really engage them in the science and share with them the excitement of the work that’s taking place at the Buck.

You can learn more about the Learning Center here Julie Mangada, PhD, K-12 Education Outreach Coordinator, Buck Institute for Research on Aging

Through their lens: Carly Larsson dreams mad scientist dreams (and wants more time in the lab)

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences. 

Carly Larsson took this confocal microscopy image and submitted it to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed.

Carly Larsson worked in the lab of Anthony De Tomasa at UCSB. She wrote two blog entries, one at the beginning of her experience and another after spending several months in the lab.

In the beginning

“I know that I know nothing.” This approximation of Socrates’ wisdom is true for all people. There is so much to know, and so much to understand that it is impossible to know even a percent of everything. We must try to be content, to simply satisfy our own curiosity, and hope along the way we can help others in the same endeavor. This is why I applied for CIRM and RMP, to start my small quest for an unattainable amount of knowledge, which every scientist nevertheless tries to summit. In the next six weeks I plan to learn the basics of cellular biology and of the Wnt pathway, conducting several experiments to identify the roll of Wnt genes in embryonic and early development of ascidians.

Having just finished my sophomore year of high school, I feel a tad behind older students who have had the ability to take higher level classes in their chosen field. Doing research on biological entities would have been greatly aided by an A.P. Biology class, but despite a lack of background I am determined to succeed and believe I will. Already I have learned how to capture images with a microscope, mix solutions with pipets, and take care of and identify parts of the animal we work with in the lab, Botryllus Schlosseri. Even though I do not know half of what my mentor is trying to explain to me, I take notes, ask many questions, and perform a lot of Googling when I get home. By the end of the day I have learned much, and better yet have understood most of it. All the challenges I will face in the next weeks are simply conflicts on the plotline to an exciting climax and a joyous denouement. Such challenges are why I was so interested in RMP to begin with, and why I believe it will help me establish my future.

In the course of my first week of research I have learned more than I thought possible and still have more to understand. The opportunity to perform scientific research while still attending high school is incredible. Especially when it is understood that most students do not participate in such research until they are graduate students. The only research I and most high school students get to perform comes in the form of research papers for English and History classes, and the only time (if ever) high school students perform research in a scientific setting is extracurricular. Merely being present in a lab setting allows students to use equipment they may not have known existed. I was shocked to discover in our safety lecture, that eighty percent or more of the students in RMP had used a fume hood, and I did not even know what that combination of words meant. It is sometimes frightening how advanced other students are compared to oneself, either because of more opportunity or sheer skill. It makes me wonder about my own chances of getting in to a university of my choice, but then I remember the opportunities I have sought out and fought for; that I came to CIRM and RMP asking for a placement and achieved my goal. Just being accepted into a program such as this is heartening and confidence boosting. Without programs like RMP, students in small towns and in underfunded schools would not have the chance to witness real science in the flesh, and I would be hard pressed to find another program that had more to offer than RMP and CIRM.

I look forward to meeting new people, attending lectures, and becoming more comfortable as a person and as a scientist. At the end of this six week period I will have accomplished more than many would expect from a high school student: writing a scientific research paper, surviving and thriving in a scientific lab, presenting scientific findings to an audience, publicizing a grant through social media, and attending a conference at Stanford. I may remember these next weeks as the highlight of my high school career; they may change the course of my career, but above all I will have expanded my knowledge and learned a brain bursting amount.

At the end

Five weeks have passed in what felt like a week and contained the work load of a year. I learned how to perform micro manipulation (one of the most harrowing and frustrating experiences of my life), and I experienced Murphy’s law first-hand. However, despite the lack of sleep, weekends spent in the lab, and the frustrations and uncertainties new experiments can bring about, I wish my time at the De Tamaso lab would continue on indefinitely. I am quite positive I am not the only CIRM intern that feels this way. Who wants to return to the drama and stupidity of high school when you have tasted what the real world looks like, and what biology experiments look like without the restraints of an underfunded classroom? Alas it is our sad fate to return, but at least the memories will tide us over and keep us dreaming mad scientist’s dreams.

Thank you for this opportunity.

Carly Larsson

Carly submitted these videos about her summer: