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Pacific University's biology department hosts its annual science workshop Dec. 1.

COURTESY PHOTO: PACIFIC UNIVERSITY - Pacific students and Layla Khoja-Herr work with a bacterial plate at Biotopia. 
Welcome to "Biotopia," Pacific University's biology department's annual interactive workshop with the community.

Here, people of all ages can walk in the shoes of a scientist for an afternoon by participating in activities like extracting DNA from a strawberry, identifying insects and encouraging small crustacean-like isopods to race.

On Saturday, Dec. 1 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., rooms in the Strain Science building, 2043 College Way, in Forest Grove, become workshop areas led by faculty and undergraduate students.

Liesl McCormick, a professor of biology at Pacific, has instructed introductory courses at the school for six years, and said she is excited the department has a time to connect with members of the community.

"I want people to come and see what is going on at Pacific, but also embrace the outreach we are trying to do to foster the connection to biology and Forest Grove," McCormick said.

This is Biotopia's third year, and for people who have gone in the past, this year brings some new opportunities to "get their science on," McCormick said.

"We are tweaking a few things and keeping the things people enjoy. For example, in the microbiology room, they'll be solving a bacterial disease mystery," McCormick said.

The event is aimed to appeal to all ages, from younger children to higher education students.

Not only can participants take their time and move from room to room, but biology-inspired cookies are available to decorate.

Faculty will be available to talk about their ongoing research.

"So much of the funding for science comes from the government, it is not only something that benefits society, it is something the public should be invested in. It shows what can be done and how people can become involved," McCormick said.

COURTESY PHOTO: PACIFIC UNIVERSITY - Children will have the chance to extract strawberry DNA at Biotopia. Having a presence in town is important to the department and what she considers looking toward creating a future generation of scientists, she said.

"It is (about) the transparency and the connection with the community especially in this day and age. So few people are able to name a living scientist," McCormick said. "It shows them 'you too can be a scientist and this is what a biologist looks like.' For me, it's the involvement and making science accessible."

Simple projects like taking DNA from strawberries were chosen because it is easy to pick up the materials every day, and is fun, she said.

"It is easy to extract – all you need is soup, water, salt and rubbing alcohol and a filter. You can get visible quantities of DNA from them," McCormick said.

By Janae Easlon
Features Editor
Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune
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