Pivot Interactives Content Team: Summer 2020

October 11, 2021

Pivot Interactives Content Team: Summer 2020

This summer, while we continued to create despite a global pandemic, our lab spaces looked very different. Our goal was to complete our first library of videos and activities specifically design to support high school and college biology instruction. While the pandemic continued and we all tried to ignore the increasing uncertainty clouding our futures, we focused on what we could control, which was to continue to create an interactive platform for science education.  Here’s a glimpse into the lives and “labs”  of our creative and productive scientists working in our pandemic labs, made even more chaotic by a global crisis beyond our control.  

While our previous lab was an (often crowded) high school classroom, the Summer Laboratories of 2020 were solitary spaces: my basement, Katie’s garage, Bennett’s cedar closet, Will’s bedroom,  Aiden’s backyard shed. I’ll admit that when I struggled, alone in my basement, to get a complete seal around my basil leaf through a mess of petroleum jelly and blue water, I felt less like a scientist than a young child doing an art project.  Luckily, the image of myself, creating either an experiment or a mess, while Netflix played in the background made me laugh instead of cry.

After Stand Up, we turn to our own routines. I clip a piece of basil and make a fresh potometer for the day, refilling a tube with water and restarting the time-lapse every two hours. While the plant transpires, I edit  thousands of images from yesterday into time-lapse videos and work on the growing array of videos on my laptop. Then I turn to my second project: natural selection in yeast. I take samples from the yeast cultures, plate them onto Petrifilm(TM) and incubate them. I count the yeast population on the films that are done incubating and record the counts into my ever-expanding spreadsheet. It’s science, and as such, some experiments work and some don’t. When I get stuck, I use our Slack channel to consult with Doug, a retired 3M engineer, who scours the literature for insights, or with Eric, an AP Biology teacher who is well connected within his network of biologists around the country.

After Stand Up, Katie starts a 6-hour video of a vegetable in a salt solution and measures the mass on the hour. In between, she teaches herself to mold bromothymol-infused agar shapes and prepares eggs for osmosis videos. It’s a really cool visual, but the video is unforgiving and she has to figure out how to keep a de-shelled egg stationary while it soaks in a solution for a day and a half. She tries several conventional adhesion solutions before deciding she needs a mechanical solution. This challenge is well-suited for Katie’s particular shade of genius, which manifests in three-dimensional, wild and magnificent solutions. Already this summer she has figured out how to create agar spheres and cylinders using modeling clay, reusable straws, and sandpaper.  A dozen faces cheered on the screen when Katie brought her first agar sphere prototype to share as a prop at our daily Stand Up. It was energizing and necessary to share both successes and failures with the team as we watch worked, alone in our homemade science nooks.

Despite the different kind of chaos we endured in the summer of 2020, productive order eventually emerged.  We meet every morning, from our bedrooms, kitchens, back yards and screen porches  on Google Hangouts for our Content-Developer Stand-Up.  Everyone gives a quick three-part summary: What I did yesterday, What will I do today, What challenges are slowing me down.   We bring props, both physical and digital, to share via our computers: Will’s hand-fabricated diffusion apparatus, my simple potometer (used to measure the transpiration of plants) and environmental control chamber, Katie’s bromothymol-infused agar spheres, Aiden’s breath-taking closeups of precipitate reactions. We take note of teammates calling from new spots (we like it when we know what backgrounds to expect). Everybody gives an update.  Katie always goes first, Peter always goes last.  We found that even when we can’t work together in the same lab, we can still work together.

Anna Says: This is my transpiration set-up and a pre-meeting selfie with a basil clipping. Notice the fish tank with orange silica-gel beads. The was the environmental control chamber for measuring how the rate of transpiration depends on humidity. The beads produced a relative humidity of 3-4%, considerably drier than my basement in a Minnesota summer.

After Stand Up, we turn to our own routines. I clip a piece of basil and make a fresh potometer for the day, refilling a tube with water and restarting the time-lapse every two hours. While the plant transpires, I edit  thousands of images from yesterday into time-lapse videos and work on the growing array of videos on my laptop. Then I turn to my second project: natural selection in yeast. I take samples from the yeast cultures, plate them onto Petrifilm(TM) and incubate them. I count the yeast population on the films that are done incubating and record the counts into my ever-expanding spreadsheet. It’s science, and as such, some experiments work and some don’t. When I get stuck, I use our Slack channel to consult with Doug, a retired 3M engineer, who scours the literature for insights, or with Eric, an AP Biology teacher who is well connected within his network of biologists around the country.

After Stand Up, Katie starts a 6-hour video of a vegetable in a salt solution and measures the mass on the hour. In between, she teaches herself to mold bromothymol-infused agar shapes and prepares eggs for osmosis videos. It’s a really cool visual, but the video is unforgiving and she has to figure out how to keep a de-shelled egg stationary while it soaks in a solution for a day and a half. She tries several conventional adhesion solutions before deciding she needs a mechanical solution. This challenge is well-suited for Katie’s particular shade of genius, which manifests in three-dimensional, wild and magnificent solutions. Already this summer she has figured out how to create agar spheres and cylinders using modeling clay, reusable straws, and sandpaper.  A dozen faces cheered on the screen when Katie brought her first agar sphere prototype to share as a prop at our daily Stand Up. It was energizing and necessary to share both successes and failures with the team as we watch worked, alone in our homemade science nooks.

Katie’s summer has been all about osmosis. Left is an image of vegetables soaking in salt solutions, center top are eggs bathing in vinegar in preparation for their turn to be soaked, center bottom are Katie’s tools to create agar shapes to sit in water, and right is the camera stage in her garage that captures it all. At various times, Katie had as many as three simultaneous time-lapse shots recording. She became a master at apparatus construction, camera set-up, time-lapse video editing, and working with the Pivot API to create video instances.