On many university campuses there is a dark room that has no windows and the walls are painted black. People wearing white lab coats enter and rest their eyes on top of what I think to be one the most magnificent instruments in a science laboratory, the microscope. These microscopes, which are no bigger than a desk but can cost more than a house, rest gently on a cushion of air and serve the purpose of making the invisible world, visible.
I was hooked the first time I peered into one of these microscopes. All of a sudden this entirely new and previously invisible world moved into focus right in front of me. Tiny creatures that I had apparently been living with, were visible for the first time. I eventually turned my obsession with the microscopic world into a career. I am a scientist at a major medical school and my laboratory’s research is to study how cancer cells work, with the goal of creating new cancer treatments. My team and I have killed cancer cells with new medicines, burst them open, blasted them with radiation, and blocked them from spreading. We do this with the hope that our research will lead to new cancer treatments, make older treatments better, or help diagnose cancer.
Now I have been trying to bring this fascination for microscopes and cells into the classrooms of children around the state of Georgia with my program Students for Science. Through this program I have traveled to over 200 K-12 classrooms and seen over 2000 children in about 35 schools. I usually travel with three microscopes, computers, and cameras, and I bring with me other Winship Cancer Institute scientists, scientists in training from our graduate school, and Emory University undergraduates. Our goal is to inspire critical thinking in K-12 schools by providing them with hands-on, thought-provoking science activities that use the microscope. We have worked with the school students to see their own cheek cells, pond water, microorganisms in dirt, moss, bugs, and plants. I also show them real science movies taken on the microscopes at Emory to promote critical thinking and age-appropriate discussion about science and cancer.
I think that all of us participating in the program believe in its potential long-term benefit of growing the next generation of Georgia scientists. One of our major goals is to have the school students see real scientists to make the possibility of becoming a scientist more tangible. In addition, for me personally it is the excitement and thrill that the children show the first time they peer down the microscope and observe cells zipping across the microscope slide. Some children show fascination, others bewilderment, and some just scream out loud. These reactions are priceless and motivate me to continue to grow the program, see more classrooms, and help educate our youngest scientists.
About Dr. Marcus
Adam Marcus received his PhD in cell biology from Penn State University in 2002 and went on to do a post-doctoral fellowship in cancer pharmacology at Emory University. Dr. Marcus is an Associate Professor at Emory University School of Medicine and has developed his own laboratory which focuses on cell biology and pharmacology in lung and breast cancer. Dr. Marcus’ laboratory studies how cancer cells invade and metastasize using a combination of molecular and imaging-based approaches. For more information about Dr. Marcus and his outreach and research efforts, please use the related resources links below. You can also follow Dr. Marcus on Twitter at @NotMadScientist.