Portal to the Public at the Mayborn Museum Complex Brings Science to the Waco Community

  • Portal 1
    Baylor University science experts are bringing science to a general audience through Portal to the Public, a national program that helps connect scientists with the community.
  • Portal 2
    Graduate students, doctoral students and professors presented projects on a variety of topics, ranging from neural pathways in the brain to powers of ten.
Feb. 17, 2017

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Media contact: Terry Goodrich, (254) 710-3321

WACO, Texas (Feb. 17, 2017) – Portal to the Public at the Mayborn Museum Complex is helping Baylor University science experts bring science to life—sometimes literally.

Graduate students, doctoral students and professors gave presentations, such as Yeast Fun! and Squishy Circuits, at the Mayborn earlier this week through Portal to the Public.

One scientist’s project, Frankenroach, involved harnessing electrical currents to make a roach’s amputated leg move. Prune Your Brain used tacks and rubber bands on a Styrofoam mannequin head to demonstrate how neural pathways form and fade in the brain.

Portal to the Public is a national program to connect science and technology experts with the local community. By helping experts learn about communication and outreach, Portal to the Public helps bring modern science to a general audience. More than 50 organizations form the Portal to the Public Network (PoPNet), including science centers, museums, zoos, universities and others. Portal to the Public is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Mayborn Museum became a member of PoPNet in March 2016. Since then, Mayborn staff have conducted nine training sessions with Portal to the Public participants from a variety of Baylor University departments, helping them learn how to convey scientific ideas and information to the public.

“We have wonderful experts in these areas, but their topics sometimes are so extreme, above everybody’s level, so we wanted them to share their expertise in their areas of study,” said Nancy Minter, Portal to the Public coordinator at the Mayborn.

Before the presentation, participants were taught four ways of engaging with an audience: do something, share a story, challenge people or show something unusual.

At one table, biology graduate student Kaitlin Murtha asked attendees to smell two different varieties of yeast. Petri dishes displayed yeast growing in different shapes, some showing large, single letters and even “BU.” Pipe cleaners and colored beads arranged in a particular order helped show DNA differences of the two yeast types, while a screen displayed how yeast looks under a light microscope.

“Having to be able to explain your work to other people really makes you appreciate it in a way you wouldn’t normally,” said Murtha, whose presentation was titled Yeast Fun! “It’s nice to be able to come out of the lab and explain your own research to other people. It makes you develop a better appreciation for what you’re doing.”

The event featured 11 total presentations:

• Frankenroach by Andy Holley

• Brains! by Laura Ornelas and Suzanne Nolan

• Prune Your Brain by Shelby Rivers

• Why Practice Makes Perfect by Matt Binder

• Powers of Ten by Christie Sayes, Ph.D.

• Yeast Fun! by Bessie Kebaara, Ph.D., and Kaitlin Murtha

• Shake, Rattle and Roll Brain by Meredith Hoyland

• Squishy Circuits by Matthew Doyen

• Gravity and a Dog Walking on a Leash by Rachel Moore

• Starduster II by Josh Ward

• The Stroop Effect by Courtney Kurinec

Portal to the Public at the Mayborn Museum Complex will also host workshops with teachers to encourage the inquiry method of education, encouraging students to be active participants in the classroom instead of simply reading a book, watching a video or listening to a lecture.

“Science is kind of stagnant,” Minter said. “Once eighth grade comes about, everyone’s more focused on test results, so we find that a lot of kids that are interested in science lose their interest at that age.”

The inquiry method allows for more independent, personalized learning, Minter said.

The Portal to the Public presentations will be shared with the general public on Tuesday, March 14, in honor of Brain Awareness Week, at the Mayborn Museum, 1300 S. University Parks Drive.

Visit the Mayborn Museum website for more information about Portal to the Public.

by Kalli Damschen, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805


Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


Located on the Baylor University campus, the Mayborn Museum Complex features a natural science and cultural history museum focusing on Central Texas with walk-in dioramas, including one on the Waco Mammoth Site, and exploration stations for geology, paleontology, archaeology, and natural history. In addition, two floors of hands-on discovery rooms encourage learning for all ages. Visit the museum online at www.baylor.edu/mayborn.

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