Inaugural CNMS Science Discovery Series hits the mark with community audience

Published: Apr 17, 2024

man stands on a stage in front of a large screen, which shows a modern, domain-based tree of life on the left, and the former "five kingdoms" understanding (with an X through it) on the right.
Stephen Freeland talks about former and current understandings of the "tree of life" as part of his presentation at the inaugural CNMS Science Discovery Series. (Photo by Kathleen Hoffman)

The College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences (CNMS) hosted its first CNMS Science Discovery Series event on March 27. In this public series, CNMS faculty members present talks on a variety of scientific topics. The goal of the series is to give back to the community by offering an opportunity for non-experts to learn about the research happening in their backyards. 

“I grew up with the Apollo moon landings and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. They inspired me and countless others to dream of being a scientist, to ask questions, to explore the unknown and discover new knowledge,” shares CNMS Dean William R. LaCourse. “As a public university, I believe it is part of our mission to share our knowledge and passion for science with our community to inspire others to dream of a better and brighter future.”

More than 80 attendees came out to the Fine Arts Recital Hall on a rainy night to learn about “Life, But Not As We Know It” from the inaugural speaker, Stephen Freeland, professor of biological sciences. Freeland drew in the audience as he discussed how the 20 amino acids we call our “amino acid alphabet” here on Earth evolved. He also explained how his current research could help discover alternative amino acid alphabets that might exist elsewhere in the universe.

stack of quartercards on a table with headshot of Freeland, short description of the event and talk, and a QR code to the event evaluation form.

Audience members included families who had heard about the event through Catonsville Middle School, Mt. St. Joseph High School, and other local school and community organizations, as well as members of the UMBC community, including faculty, staff, and members of the UMBC Astronomy Club. 

In the event evaluation form, one middle school teacher commented, “I loved the content and learned new things I hope to bring to my classroom.” Another attendee shared that the event “grew my curiosity. I plan to read more about amino acids and DNA.” Yet another said, “Great job taking such complex concepts and making them accessible.” Attendees also reported appreciating having access to CNMS faculty ambassadors during the reception, who were happy to answer their questions on a range of topics. 

The college is already starting to plan the next CNMS Science Discovery Series event for fall 2024, incorporating feedback from the first attendees. The topic will be completely different, but the goal will be the same: connecting with the community by offering a free gift of knowledge to anyone interested in learning something new. 

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