Taking science out of the lab and into the hands—and minds—of kids

Taking science out of the lab and into the hands—and minds—of kids

May 10
Stephanie Henry, ACES Media Specialist

Nutrition researchers in the Department of Animal Sciences are telling the ACES story by finding new ways to take science out of the laboratory and into the hands—and minds—of kids.  

Austin Mudd, a doctoral student in the U of I neuroscience program, and Ryan Dilger, an associate professor of nutrition, study how early-life nutrition affects brain development. They have published several scientific journal papers on the subject, which have helped lead to advances in pediatric nutrition. 

But their findings aren’t just meant for laboratories or science journals. What if everyone could learn a little bit more about the way nutrition affects our everyday lives? 
For a scientist, though, talking about brain development and the thousands of different components in milk and the role each plays in this process is complicated.  It’s fascinating, but it can be difficult for anyone, especially kids, to digest. 

But recently Mudd and Dilger jumped at the opportunity to re-write one of their research papers for a kid audience. Their work appears in Frontiers for Young Minds, a scientific journal for kids, in which articles are written by distinguished scientists, and then edited and reviewed by kids. After writing a recent article in the journal, Mudd learned that if the science is communicated the right way, kids are interested in and inspired by the work he and his colleagues have done.

The process wasn’t easy. Kids can be brutally honest after all, and Mudd said the kid reviewers were tougher than some peer-reviewers have been for previous papers.  After back-and-forth edits with the kid reviewers, Mudd and his co-authors finally had a paper the kids could understand and were happy with. Some of the kids were even inspired to look at nutrition and babies in a completely different way.

And maybe some of those kid reviewers will be inspired to become the next generation of nutritionists or neuroscientists because of the experience. 

Read more about the project here.

Austin Mudd looking at brain scans
Austin Mudd, University of Illinois neuroscience doctoral student, examines brain scans of piglets in the Beckman Institute.