Kennedy College of Sciences Hosts Fourth Annual Showcase Highlighting Importance of Science

Students around spot Image by Ed Brennan
Students admire UMass Lowell NERVE Center’s Spot during Spring Fest.

By Brooke Coupal

The snow has melted, flowers are beginning to bloom, and students and faculty are springing into science.

The Kennedy College of Sciences hosted its fourth annual “Spring into Science: A Celebration of Discovery, Innovation and Education in Sciences” showcase, featuring educational and social events to highlight the importance of the field.

“Science is probably the best tool that we shape and use to understand the world around us,” says Dean Noureddine Melikechi. “When used ethically, it helps us solve some of the critical issues that we face. The Spring into Science week provides a taste of science and is our gift to the public.”

Members of the campus community gathered at Alumni Hall for a presentation by James Heiss, assistant professor of Environmental, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, on “The Invisible Flood: Saltwater Intrusion into Aquifiers and its Effect on Water Resources.”

“Fresh coastal groundwater is really important. About 100 million people in U.S. coastal counties depend on fresh groundwater for drinking water, for irrigation and in industry,” Heiss said. “By far, the most widespread groundwater contaminate along the global coastline is saltwater intrusion,” an issue he referred to as “complex” and “growing.” 

James Heiss Image by Brooke Coupal
James Heiss, assistant professor of Environmental, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, gives a presentation on “The Invisible Flood: Saltwater Intrusion into Aquifiers and its Effect on Water Resources.”
There are several causes of saltwater intrusion, including sea-level rise, climate change, increased storm activity that can create intense storm surges, and human-induced groundwater pumping. 

“Understanding these different factors is really important for ensuring that we have long-term sustainable coastal groundwater systems,” Heiss said.

The National Science Foundation recently awarded Heiss a five-year, $680,000 faculty early-career development award for his research.

Also addressing the issue of climate change was Simon Buckle, the former head of the division responsible for climate change, biodiversity, water and sustainable finance issues at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. In a talk delivered via Zoom, he spoke about climate policy.

“Ambitious climate and biodiversity action is absolutely essential to continue well-being and prosperity of humankind,” Buckle said. “The risks will get higher the higher we let temperatures rise, so I just urge you to keep the pressure on governments and keep moving forward in terms of understanding the actions that we need to make in our society to guarantee that well-being.”

Buckle’s presentation was part of the Kennedy College of Sciences Lecture Series on Science and Society, sponsored by Eric and Lola Chaisson.

Students learned about how science and business intersect from a panel of alumni whose careers align with those two fields.

Christopher Jones, a senior finance major who is interested in joining the biotechnology field, asked the panelists, “Is it a problem not having that science background?”

“There are definitely opportunities for finances in the sciences,” said Gregory Chiklis ’92, the chief executive officer and chief scientific officer at MRN Diagnostics and the chair of the KCS Advisory Board. He says a lot of scientific companies will hire financial groups to get guidance on how to manage their funds.

Science Meets Business panel Image by Brooke Coupal
Panelists William Yelle ’85, Gregory Chiklis ’92, Monique Yoakim-Turk ’87, ’88, Kennedy College of Sciences Dean Noureddine Melikechi and Manning School of Business Dean Sandra Richtermeyer answer students' questions during "Where Business Meets Science."

“My recommendation is to always keep an open mind and be open to learning new things, and I think there’s no barrier that you cannot overcome,” added Monique Yoakim-Turk ’87, ’88, the director of program and alliance management at Moderna. “There are so many ways to bridge science and business.”

Jones says the advice “cleared my mind on any concerns that I had because I was a little worried that I didn’t have a science background.”

The “Science Meets Business” event was moderated by William Yelle ’85, the founding CEO of FireCyte and executive chair of Violet Therapeutics. He also serves as a visiting lecturer for the Manning School of Business, the director of the university’s Global Entrepreneurship Exchange, and the co-director of UML’s Jack M. Wilson Center for Entrepreneurship.

We Science!

UMass Lowell students and prospective students from three local high schools got to put down the books and have some fun as “Spring into Science” progressed.

People arriving at the Olney Science Center lawn for Spring Fest were greeted by large balloon flowers, lawn games, free food, live music and UMass Lowell NERVE Center’s Spot, an agile mobile robot created by Boston Dynamics that resembles a dog.

Calie Zimmerman-Sophia Cruz-Cynthia Gomez Image by Brooke Coupal
Freshmen biology majors Calie Zimmerman, Sophia Cruz and Cynthia Gomez place River Hawks shirts on stuffed animals during Spring Fest.

Students appreciated the break from classwork, including freshman biology major Sophia Cruz, who took part in making a stuffed giraffe during the festivities.

“I think Spring Fest is really cool, especially with finals coming up,” she says. “It’s a good way to destress.”

Kartikeya Sharma and April Parks, both graduate students in physics, played a game of ladder toss.

“From the viewpoint of a Ph.D. student, every day is practically the same routine morning to evening, and once in a while, I need a break to get out of the box,” says Sharma. “It’s really great and it’s nice to have all the professors here and see them outside academia and have friends from other departments.”

High school students from Chelmsford and Stoneham, Massachusetts and Salem, New Hampshire got to step onto campus for a day of fun. The UMass Lowell chapter of the American Chemical Society (ACS) provided tours of the campus and laboratory facilities and engaged the students in a scientific demonstration.

Chemistry Quiz Bowl Image by Brooke Coupal
High school students from Chelmsford and Stoneham, Massachusetts and Salem, New Hampshire take part in "It’s Elementary: The Chemistry Quiz Bowl" hosted by the The UMass Lowell chapter of the American Chemical Society.

The highlight of the day for the high schoolers was “It’s Elementary: The Chemistry Quiz Bowl.” Students split up into teams in Alumni Hall, where they answered questions about chemistry and UML for a chance at prizes.

When asked who invented the periodic table, Maya Ibrahim, a junior at Stoneham High School, proudly held up her team’s board with the right answer, “Mendeleev.”

The ACS awarded the UMass Lowell chapter a $1,000 grant in support of their event.

“The ACS grant is great because it provides both direct monetary support to do this event and national recognition of the importance of events like this that build community and provide education and engagement,” says Asst. Chemistry Professor Michael Ross, who serves as the faculty advisor of UMass Lowell’s ACS chapter.

Additional “Spring into Science” events were held for the campus community and the public, including a lecture by Physics Ph.D. candidate Thad Potter on "High Altitude Balloons and the Search for Exoplanets: The PICTURE-C Observatory," followed by a visit to the Schueller Observatory on South Campus, as well as multiple colloquia held by the different KCS departments.