Campus News Science & Technology

UGA Libraries’ science contest encourages creativity

Alison Banks won first place in the graduate student category of the Capturing Science Contest. (Photo by Amy Ware)

Capturing Science Contest encourages students to put their communication skills to work.

When most people think of climate science, their only visual reference is a disaster movie. But Alison Banks knows that things are more complicated. As she modeled scenarios in her work as a master’s student in geography, Banks was inspired to create her own representation of the possibilities.

With an image in her head that draws from Dante’s journey in “Inferno” through the circles of hell, Banks set to work on an art project that combines the positives and the negatives that could occur based on various models developed through her research.

The finished project earned Banks $1,000 and first place in the graduate student category of the Capturing Science Contest, sponsored by the University of Georgia Libraries and Office of Research.

“It’s nice to have a program that prioritizes creativity,” said Banks, who added that it can be hard to find time as a graduate student to work on a project like this, but she is grateful that she was able to combine her passions to tell an important scientific story.

Creativity and clarity are the hallmarks of the Capturing Science Contest, which was created three years to encourage students to put their communication skills to work. Students can submit a project in a variety of formats and genres, and among this year’s entries were music compositions, videos, creative writing, learning activities and more.

The 50 entries encompassed a broad range of fields from chemistry to math, and they ranged from a lesson plan to explain the link between tree rings and archaeology to a spoof of “The Bachelorette” to explain how animals choose a mate.

(Photo by Amy Ware)

“At the Libraries, we encourage people to engage with information in diverse ways, and that is the spirit of the Creating Science Contest,” said Chandler Christoffel, an instruction and research librarian at the UGA Science Library who founded the contest. “Scholarship can go beyond using knowledge to creating it, and this contest is one avenue where we can get students to think about that in innovative ways.”

For Madison Smith, it seemed natural to teach people about engineering through a game. The fifth-year environmental engineering student is a self-proclaimed “huge nerd about board games,” and she loves getting together with friends to play a few rounds of “Catan” or “Terraforming Mars.”

(Photo by Amy Ware)

The idea for her Capturing Science project came to her one restless night while she pondered a class lecture about how even the most complex machines begin with some simple engineering concepts.

As she edited the rules and created the game pieces utilizing the Science Library’s Makerspace, Smith said she learned a lot about how to introduce the concepts to people who weren’t experts in engineering.

“I loved working on the project,” said Smith, who received the top prize for undergraduate students. “It’s a unique and awesome way to pull in that creative side.”

Banks enjoyed how the contest stretched her mind in a different setting than the laboratory. She originally thought that she might create her project through quilting, but she decided to learn new skills to develop the artwork through hand paint and embroidery. She woke up each morning and worked on the project while she drank coffee and listened to an audio book.

While her friends use social media and other means to talk about science, Banks isn’t comfortable communicating in that way. With her project, she says she found her niche.

“This seems like my way to communicate — to create something. That was cool to discover about myself,” she said.

“Doing this was so much fun, and I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for the Capturing Science project,” she added. “I want to get to the point where I can’t wait to get up in the morning and work on my thesis like I did with this project.”

From left, David DiGioia, undergraduate in mathematics and computer science; Katharine Napora, Ph.D. student in anthropology; Madison Smith, undergraduate in environmental engineering; and Alison Banks, graduate student in geography. (Photo by Amy Ware)

2019-2020 winners of the Capturing Science Contest

Undergraduate Students

$1,000 — Madison Smith (environmental engineering): “Synergy” board game teaching energy concepts in engineering

$350 — Madison Breda (animal and dairy science): song/video “Flow into the River,” ecological adaptation of Bishop Brigg’s “River” (with the Eco-Tones)

$150 — David DiGioia (math and computer science): video tutorial on “Can any knot be untied? Intro to knot theory and tricolorability”

Paw-popular Choice Award —Eve Reiter (biology) and Hannah Potsma (genetics): “The Bachelorette” video explaining evolutionary biology

Graduate Students

$1,000 — Alison Banks (geography): “Spheres of Heaven and Hell,” embroidery illustrating climate change scenarios

$350 — Michael Francis (bioinformatics) and Sohyun Bang (integrated life sciences): Music of Life video/song translating DNA sequence into musical composition

$150 —  Katharine Napora (anthropology): learning activities about tree rings and archaeology