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Tuesday, October 20, 2020

In Other Words: It’s in Our Genes

(Img: A Skop)

By Chuck Keller

Our world is beautiful. And that beauty goes all the way to the cellular level. 

 Fort Thomas native and University of Wisconsin genetics professor, Ahna Skop, and two of her undergraduate students, Elif Kurt and Caitlin Marks, developed a clever way to reveal that cellular beauty to students of all levels. They created Genetic Reflections: A Coloring Book available now on Amazon.

Now I have a confession to make. I have known Ahna a long time. She has a piercing intellect, a wickedly contagious laugh, and an obsession with cooking and art, and has a powerful lust for life. She is just fun to be around. 

So it’s no surprise that the three authors returned the childlike wonder of exploring to science. We know that if learning is fun then it doesn’t seem like work and that fun helps your memory and motivation. It’s a clever approach. And it works.  

Skop and the authors want “to teach students and the public of all ages about the beauty of science and genetics. And the usefulness of studying model organisms, such as the fruit fly, nematode, or corn.”
The letter A from the coloring book. Courtesy A Skop. 

Skop says that they want the book to appeal to all ages. “We specifically want K-6 teachers to use this in their classrooms to teach about genetics and biology.” But the truth is that it will appeal to any age. 

Skop is no stranger to art. She is the eldest child of two extraordinarily talented artists - Kathy and Michael Skop. Her siblings are all accomplished artists as well. And even though she excels in the world of science she still works that artistic muscle. She has created several scientific art installations on the UW-Madison campus and she has also curated and created several traveling science art exhibitions. 

Scientists are excited about the coloring book because “it’s never been done,” Skop reports. “It’s a way to understand human disease” she adds. She said that she hopes the book adds to the “discovery of organisms and how it informs us about disease and just being human.” That’s a big claim but it’s true. The book encourages exploration, discovery, creativity, and solid science. 

 The book presents an image for each letter of the alphabet. Each is an opportunity for discovery. 

 This idea is not new to Ahna Skop. She has been an in-demand keynote speaker for many years for her engaging “Too Creative for Science?” presentations that you can view on YouTube. The focus is on creative problem solving and that both are needed in science and the arts. She wants to “make sure they are in tune with their artistic sides….It’s way of thinking” and seeing the world in new and creative ways.
Professor Ahna Skop (Img: A Skop)

Skop won an inclusive teaching award for these talks. And she notes that she’s dyslexic too so when she looks out over her classes she tells them that it is “the invisible that make you who you are.” She has won numerous prestigious awards for her research and work in diversity. 

 Part of the proceeds of this book will be donated to charities and programs that support STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) educational innovations or public outreach events. 

 This would make a wonderful holiday gift or fun teaching aid for teachers. 

 You can order the book on Amazon.

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