AWIS Newsletter issue #2, winter 2015
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Seattle AWIS Newsletter 

February 2015 

Table of Contents:


Seattle AWIS 30th anniversary

by Fran Salomon
by Fran Solomon

In the fall of 1984 I was doing postdoctoral research in the Environmental Health Department
at the University of Washington (UW). One day, in mid-November, an announcement
on the department bulletin board caught my attention: “ Are you interested in starting a Seattle chapter of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS)? If so, please come to a wine and cheese party at the UW South Campus Center.” The card gave the date, time and room number for the party and requested that potential attendees RSVP to a woman identified as Peggy F., who was a graduate student at  UW. 

The invitation snapped me out of the doldrums that 
had been experiencing since Ronald Reagan’s 
re-election as U.S. President earlier that month,
 and I immediately called Peggy F. to
tell her that I would love to attend. I had been a
 member of National AWIS since the mid- 1970s. 
Reading their newsletters and knowing that there
 was an organization that advocated for women in
 science had helped me to feel less isolated as a
 female graduate student in a male-dominated 
department. I was excited at the idea of forming 
a local chapter of AWIS and connecting with a 
network of other women who were pursuing science 
careers in the Seattle area. In the early years 
of my career I was still very much a minority as
 a woman in my field of environmental biology.
I enthusiastically attended the high energy wine 
and cheese event with about fifty other women. 
We went around the room, introducing ourselves 
and sharing our experiences with subtle and
not-so-subtle sexism in our academic and career
 pursuits. A signup sheet was distributed for 
those who wanted to participate in the nitty 
gritty details of chapter formation.
The follow-up to the wine and cheese party was
 a series of meetings over the next several 
months. About twelve of us figured out the 
details of a constitution and bylaws and decided
 that our new chapter of AWIS would have monthly
 meetings from September through June and would 
have program, outreach and newsletter committees.
 In the spring of 1985, the Seattle chapter of 
AWIS was officially born. Katie Sprugel was the
 first President. Peggy F. (Peggy Fahnestock),
 who had organized the wine and cheese party, 
was the second, and I was the third President
 of the chapter.
Our early chapter meetings took place at the UW
 South Campus Center. This was a convenient 
location because most of us were UW graduate 
students, postdocs and faculty in the biological
and health sciences. The monthly programs focused
 on the research and accomplishments
of individual women in science, as well as career
 development and women in science issues. In the 
late 1980s, we coordinated with Society of Women 
Engineers, Association of Women Geoscientists and
 Women’s Transportation Project to plan three 
annual one-day career development conferences for
 women in science and engineering fields in Seattle.
Encouraging girls and young women to study science
 and increasing their awareness of science career 
options was a major goal of our new chapter. Towards
 this end, we participated as panelists and workshop
 leaders in many of the regional Expanding Your 
Horizons conferences and tutored undergraduate 
women at UW. The importance of outreach led to 
our development of the Girls in Engineering, 
Math and Science (GEMS) Program and mentoring
 program in the late 1990s. These projects have
 continued; a group mentoring program was launched
 in 2010 and is going strong.
Twenty-five years ago several Seattle AWIS members
 and I started the chapter’s scholarship program. 
National AWIS gives fellowships to women pursuing 
graduate studies. Receiving one of these fellowships
 had meant a great deal to me; the “you go girl”
 message from a group of women who were role models
 for me was as important as the financial support. 
I wanted to “pay it forward” and therefore proposed
 that Seattle AWIS complement National AWIS 
fellowships by giving scholarships to undergraduate
 women who had successfully completed two years of 
college in Washington State and were majoring in 
science, math or engineering fields. We awarded two
 scholarships in 1990 – one for $1000 and the other
 for $250. Over the past 25 years our scholarship 
fund has grown so that we now award $6000 - $10,000
 of scholarships annually. This year is a banner 
year for the scholarship program because we are 
receiving a $10,000 donation from Battelle in 
addition to other donations!  We will be able to
 award two $5000 scholarships as well as our regular
 $1000 and $1500 scholarships.
Seattle AWIS has remained a robust chapter, heralded
 by National AWIS as a model for other AWIS chapters
 to emulate. Our membership now includes women from
 many workplaces, career stages and science fields.
 As a now senior scientist, I still find it rewarding
 to participate actively in the chapter and to mentor
 women who are in the early stages of their careers.
 Attending AWIS meetings and being in a room full of
 women who are scientists always energizes me! The 
first 30 years of Seattle AWIS have been productive
 and fun. I wish the same for the chapter in the next
 30 years!
Fran Solomon teaches at The Evergreen State College’s
 Tacoma campus, is Owner and Instructor at 
Environmental Teaching International (
 and is a founding member of Seattle AWIS.


Chapter News

by the Programs  Committee
October and November were extremely busy months for Seattle AWIS! We hosted programs designed to reach all our core areas—outreach,
professional development, hot topics
in science and community participation. The Programs Committee thanks everyone who volunteered their time to help with these ventures. It paid great dividends in four successful events.

On October 10 and 11, Seattle AWIS hosted an outreach booth 
at GeekGirlCon 2014. We were joined by a lot of other great 
organizations in the Connections Section, including robotics 
teams, schools, programming companies and even the Girl 
Scouts. GeekGirlCon was organized several years ago to 
showcase and celebrate women’s voices in science, technology, 
geek and gaming culture, as well as to connect and grow these 
communities. It was a wonderful way to help spread the word 
about science for girls. We had more than 100 people stop by 
over the course of two days to learn more about Seattle AWIS. 
Additionally, our Programming Chairperson Jessica Cross spoke 
as part of the Careers You Never Knew You Wanted panel 
alongside other scientists, computer programmers, and science 
writers. The panel had the privilege of speaking to a packed 
room, and we had the chance to encourage everyone to explore 
the new fields. If you have a young scientist in your life, 
GeekGirlCon is an enthusiastic, fun and safe way to 
experience a convention, meet other Geek Girls and experience
exciting science activities. Seattle AWIS will be back for 
#GGC2015 and we hope to see you there! 

The monthly programming series hosted a panel of 
representatives from several Seattle-based nonprofits 
promoting women’s rights and female empowerment through 
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) 
activities. Just as the members of our chapter often 
discuss how we can support each other and continue our 
own professional development, access to the advocacy and 
education is a pivotal issue for  women in the developing 
world. Many continue to face discrimination in their 
ability to receive education, training, paid work and 
health benefits, and to engage in civic decision making 
and governance process.  Shelby Tarutis, Director and 
Founder of GambiaHELP, spoke about how a computer literacy 
program in Afghanistan is promoting the wealth and 
health of entire rural villages through simple access to 
spreadsheet programs. Another Seattle-based organization, 
The Grandmother Project, promotes the education and 
empowerment of female elders, and emphasizes the importance 
of including all women in efforts to combat disease, ensure 
environmental sustainability, and ease poverty and hunger. 
Similarly, Ginna Brelsford helps provide access to education, 
teacher training and computer literacy for girls in 
Afghanistan. Each of these women discussed dramatic 
positive changes knowledge and technology has on small 
communities, and emphasized how easy it is to support global 
girl’s education. More information on how to get involved 
or contribute can be found on the organization’s websites, 
as well as through the UN Millenium Development program. 

Earlier in the year we distributed the annual Programming 
Survey to gage our member’s interests. We were very pleased 
with all the responses and suggestions we received. Per 
requests, Our Programming committee is going to start 
hosting quarterly weekend programs dedicated to support 
of our members—through team building, networking and 
professional development. We held our first weekend program 
in early November in conjunction with National AWIS at the 
Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center. We presented a brief 
webinar from Marquita Qualls, Founder and Principal at 
Entropia Consulting, concerning the concept of Personal 
rebranding for leadership roles. Ms. Qualls focused on 
both tangible and intangible attributes of our professional 
presentation, both of which form the way we are perceived in 
the workplace. Afterwards, we had an opportunity to discuss 
and practice some of the suggested strategies. We broke into 
small groups to try several exercises in body language, 
powerful language, reflection of our strength and 
In another first, Seattle AWIS also partnered with the 
American Chemical Society (ACS) Puget Sound Section for 
the November monthly program, Recreational Marijuana: 
Science and Society. We were joined by the ACS 
President Despina Strong and board member Jennie Meyer 
in presenting the program. At the event, our panelists 
focused on the Public Health challenges surrounding 
legal recreational marijuana. Michelle Sexton, Founder 
and Chief Science Officer at PhytaLab, spoke about the 
necessity of quality control for cannabis based 
products, and access to consumer information. Seattle 
AWIS board member and Clinical Chemistry Fellow at the 
UW Department of Medicine Partistha Panjitkar discussed 
the challenges of monitoring drug usage due to the 
nature of slowly metabolizing active ingredients 
and their long-term effects on the body.  Caleb 
Banta-Green, a senior research scientist for the 
Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the UW, 
discussed the challenges for managing and testing 
impaired drivers. The big message was emphasis 
on community education as a way to prevent and limit 
impaired driving incidents. Education was also 
suggested to be the key to preventing dependent use, 
according to  Denise Walker, a Research Associate 
Professor at the UW School of Social Work. Access to 
information and mental health services would be 
critical in preventing drug abuse, particularly in 
social settings, for users of all ages. The panel 
pointed out the growing industry and opportunities 
for scientific research that may open up if 
recreational marijuana use is ever legalized 
by the federal government, providing new 
opportunities in a vastly understudied field. 
Our ‘Hot Topics in Science’ Monthly seminar series 
continued in December with Women in Game 
Development, where we hosted a panel of leaders from 
the Seattle electronic gaming community. The seminar 
focused on panelists’ experiences as women in this 
highly male-dominated field. Discussion of career 
advancement and development will continue to be 
topic of discussion in 2015.  If you’re on the hunt 
for a new job, keep your ear to the ground for our 
January program, where will be hosting a panel of 
job recruiters, poised to give you advice on how 
to stand out for Seattle-based science employers, 
good interview techniques and the networking 
events that really matter. And, brace your 
FitBits—February’s program is all about Digital 
Health. We hope to see you there! 

Profile Article

by Graciela Matrajt
Betz Halloran, from Mathematics to Ebola
By Graciela Matrajt

“I wanted to be a field doctor and be able to travel to Africa to take care of patients during an epidemic. So I learned to fly.” Elizabeth “Betz” Halloran, a Mathematician, MD, PhD, and pilot, is also an elegant woman who holds a multitude of mysteries that inspired me to write about her. And I am not the first to feel that intrigue, given that Betz was featured Power Woman in Vogue. Let’s face it, who wouldn’t be intrigued by this woman’s unprecedented career and the amazing experiences she has accumulated throughout her life?

A gifted student, Betz began college when she was only sixteen years old. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in general sciences with a strong focus on math and physics. From her early student years, Betz planned on becoming a mathematician. She was particularly attracted to mathematical logic and would have entered the Philosophy of Mathematics program at Case Western University, where she was admitted, had it not been for the influence of some friends who were studying medicine. 

Before entering graduate school in the late sixties, Betz went on a journey to discover the world. She made a stop in San Francisco where she rubbed shoulders with medical students. That trip strongly influenced Betz to return to school and take pre-med courses. Betz wanted to improve the world and to actively assist during epidemics and humanitarian crises. Toward that end, she got her pilot’s license so that she would be able to fly to Africa and work alongside the Flying Doctors organization. 

Betz also wanted to learn German. While in college, she had done research in a lab whose advisor had colleagues in Germany. He introduced Betz to one of his fellow researchers and she departed for Berlin in 1973. Originally, Betz’s plan was to stay one year and take German classes while doing research, but she loved Europe and stayed for eleven years. She transferred to a medical (MD) program, became politically active, and married a German physician. 

Around this time, Betz discovered the field of infectious diseases and, instead of travelling to Africa, she spent three months in Hamburg enrolled in a tropical diseases program. After its completion, Betz moved back to the US and enrolled in a Master of Public Health (MPH) program with a focus on tropical health at the Harvard School of Public Health. At Harvard, her research involved creating mathematical models of malaria and other infectious diseases. After completing the MPH, Betz and her husband found residency jobs in New York City. Unfortunately, due to the McCarran Internal Security Act, Betz’s husband was denied entry into the US. So she remained in the US and her husband stayed in Germany, which marked the end of their marriage. 

Betz ended up postponing her residency when she became more interested in mathematical modeling and wanted to apply her mathematical background to health problems. She enrolled in a Doctor of Science program, also at the Harvard School of Public Health, where her research focused on population science and biostatistics related to malaria and other tropical diseases. This was in the mid-eighties and there was a lot of excitement around infectious diseases, given that the completion of projects to obtain a malaria vaccine seemed very close.

In 1989, after obtaining her doctorate, Betz joined Emory University in Atlanta as an assistant professor and built a research group with Ira Longini. Betz remained in Atlanta for sixteen years where her career blossomed. Although she became a full professor, she faced gender discrimination on multiple occasions. This lack of support pushed her to relocate and Professor Longini followed her. They got an offer from the University of Washington (UW) and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, where they moved as a team in 2005. Betz joined the department of Biostatistics at UW and started a research group that focused on the statistics and modeling of infectious diseases. That same year the avian influenza (bird flu) reached Europe and the Middle East, extending to Africa the following year. The fear of the bird flu in the US became a hot topic, generating interest among popular magazines such as Vogue. After learning that Betz was the most prominent woman scientist in the field, Vogue interviewed her. This led to her being featured as the Power Woman in the Vogue March issue of 2006. 

In 2009, Betz started the Summer Institute in Statistics and Modeling in Infectious Diseases. She participated as a collaborator in a broad range of research projects both at Fred Hutch, where she is a member and has her office and research team, and at UW, where she is a full professor in the School of Public Health. That same year, Betz received one of the most prestigious awards the National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers: The Merit Award. This award is granted to investigators who have had a RO1-type grant for many years and whose research has been deemed productive. NIH gives this award only to prominent scientists whom they believe will make outstanding contributions to research for several years to come. When the research is very successful, the award is renewed for another five years. Betz recently heard that her merit award will, indeed, be renewed this year.

In September of last year, Betz received a $12.5 M funding award from NIH to build a Study Center (MIDAS, for Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study) to model and track pathogens from polio to Ebola. Betz is the Principal Investigator and Director of this nationwide center, which runs four research projects, as well as activities related to policy, outreach, and computational development. One of the projects is based in both Seattle and Florida, and aims to model the spatial spread of Ebola and dengue. The second project is based in Michigan and studies different approaches to fight polio and dengue. The third is based in Seattle and investigates the integration of a variety of epidemiologic research methods, and the fourth project is based mainly in Florida and studies how immunity affects evolution.

Although these successful projects account for most of her time, Betz always finds ways to enjoy life. The walls of her office are covered with paintings and other artwork she has been collecting throughout her life; she has been taking piano lessons for several years; and she likes ballroom dancing and hiking. Every year, she and a group of friends go on a backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon, where she loves to admire the beautiful landscapes.

Betz has been remarkable to fit terms like art, dance, German language, outdoor adventure, and extraordinary research into the equation of her success. By balancing these passions precisely, she has been able to achieve very rewarding results.

Bravo Betz!

Graciela Matrajt is a scientist reinvented as a science communicator and program manager. She works at the UW in a research and education program for under-represented students. She likes to write about science and to participate in outreach activities.

Local Biotech and Pharma News

by Graciela Matrajt and Marissa Konstadt
  1. A new research institute is opening in the Seattle area: The Allen Institute for Cell Science. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen donated $100M to create a cell science research institute. The institute, which will be directed by cell biologist Alan “Rick” Horwitz, PhD will focus initially on creating computer models of how Induced Pluripotent Stem cells develop into heart muscle and epithelial cells. The institute will recruit 70 people to develop these goals. The institute scientists will develop cell cultures, computer models, and other tools that will be available to scientists around the world, free of charge. 
  2. A research institute dedicated to artificial intelligence. The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, known as AI2, is also a research institute based in Seattle and funded by Paul Allen. The institute, directed by computer scientist Dr. Oren Etzioni, is a sibling of the Allen Institute for Brain Science and was launched in 2014 in an effort to advance artificial intelligence. The institute has already recruited 50 artificial-intelligence researchers and is looking into expanding.
  3. Juno Therapeutics goes Public. Juno Therapeutics exceeded funding expectations when they closed their initial public offering (IPO) in December 2014 at $35 a share. At an initial share price increase of 46%, Juno had a market valuation of approximately $2.7 billion, one of the highest nationwide in the biotechnology industry. Juno’s unique therapies to genetically engineer the body’s own immune cells to combat cancer are already being called “extraordinary” in early testing phases. Therapies will hopefully be available to the public in 2017. (New York Times, December 19 2014).
  4. Amgen Leaves Washington. Amgen Inc, announced in July that they would be closing their Seattle and Bothell offices, eliminating thousands of positions and abandoning a large, waterfront facility. Xconomy writer Stewert Lymen speculates about what will happen with the intellectual property of projects brought to an abrupt halt due to budget cuts. As Amgen officially close their doors, hopefully the Seattle bio-pharma industry will feel the influx of talent and physical space for innovation, rather than a gaping Amgen-sized hole. (xconomy, October 17).
  5. Novo Nordisk Reallocates their Resources. Novo Nordisk’s South Lake Union research facility represents both layoffs and potential growth for Seattle as the company faces a new direction. Sixty three jobs have been eliminated as the company claims to shift focus away from inflammatory disorders in order to expand research in other areas. (BizJournals September 4, 2014).  In fact, the initial layoff announcement comes just days before Novo Nordisk unleashed a new project surrounding a weight loss drug. Chief Science Officer Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen indicated that they will likely group this new research in their Seattle facility.  (Bloomberg, September 17, 2014).
  6. Large Growth for Adaptive Biotechnologies. Seattle based immunosequencing company Adaptive Biotechnologies is starting 2015 with a new acquisition. After raising $94 million in private equity, Adaptive will absorb Sequentia, a similar company based in San Francisco. Both companies focus on improving understanding of individual drug treatments through immune system profiling. Sixty five employees from Sequentia will be joining the Adaptive team in Seattle, increasing their workforce by more than two thirds. (BizJournal, January 16, 2015).

Recent discoveries and achievements

By Graciela Matrajt

The FedEx Effect: a team of researchers from the Fred Hutch found that blood samples from Leukemia patients sent from out of town had modified RNA. However, the RNA malformations were not related to the disease, as previously thought, but rather to the way they were stored by FedEx during shipping. Indeed, when blood samples sit at room temperature for a while, even just a few hours, it can cause malformations in the RNA. The researchers found that up to 40% of the differences in RNA between healthy people and leukemia patients may be related to this artifact. You can find the full news here.

Successful landing of probe Philae on a comet: The robot Philae was released from the spacecraft Rosetta and successfully landed on the surface of comet 67P on November 12th, 2014. It was a small leap for the lander –which was released from Rosetta at a distance of around 20 km — but certainly an unprecedented leap for the history of space exploration. Read more in this blog.

Time Person of the Year 2014: The Ebola fighters: Time Magazine dedicated the 2014 Person of the Year special issue to the Ebola Fighters. You can read the reasons of their choice here.

Upcoming events


All AWIS events are free and held the third Wednesday of the month in the Pelton Auditorium, which is located in the Thomas Bldg of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (see map). Parking is free. The event starts at 6:00 PM. From 6:00-6:30 we have networking time accompanied with food and wine. Then the talk/panel runs from 6:30-7:30 PM. We then have dessert and more networking until 8:00 PM.
All are welcome, no need to be a member.


February 18 6:00 PM: Digital Health: Beyond Heart Rate Monitors and Pedometers. Our panel will focus on the digital revolution in Health and the quantified self. How simplified data collection is empowering consumers to better care for themselves. 


March 18 6:00 PM: The Business of Climate Change. This panel discussion will focus on the impacts and interests of business and government in climate change, and how this is shaping our global response to this issue. 


April 15 6:00 PM: Curriculum and Faculty Development. Our March panel will feature a little-known campus resource: the faculty development office, and how the tools and training they provide can help make you not only a better educator but a faculty leader. 


June 17th, 6-10pm (tentative date and time): AWIS Annual Banquet, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Chapter. Place TBD.

Keep an eye out for our quarterly professional development programs, as well as a few social events this spring! We might even be touring a few big-name labs... stay tuned for future announcements! 


February 19th, 7-8:30: Science for Life 2015 presentation, at Fred Hutch, Weintraub Bldg, Pelton Auditorium. During this talk researchers from the Fred Hutch will present their revolutionary science in the field of cancer immunotherapy. There will be opportunities to interact directly with some of the researchers. The event is open to all and it is free but registration is requires. Register here.

February 23rd, 7-4:30: 2015 IACUC Regional Education Conference "Beyond the Mouse Cage: Human Health in Motion" at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center, Seattle. More information here.

March 23rd, 5:30-7:30 pm: World Tuberculosis Day, commemorated at Town Hall, Seattle. Scientists from IDRI will be discussing progress on finding new drugs to combat this age-old disease.


June 19th, 6:30-10:30 pm: NWABR's Annual Life Science Research Gala at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), Seattle. More information here.

Synopsis of past local events

by Jennifer Go

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate – is it really a question

Communicable diseases have plagued societies for centuries. Many infectious diseases, including influenza, pertussis, measles and enterovirus, continue to be major public health concerns today, particularly for immunocompromised individuals, the elderly and infants with underdeveloped immune systems.  

Research scientists have made great strides in developing effective vaccines, some of which have helped eliminate viral diseases in the United States altogether.  Edward Jenner paved the way to making first vaccines in the late 18th century by demonstrating that material from cowpox disease protected humans from smallpox.  As a direct result of this research smallpox was eradicated globally in the 1980s.  Another milestone of immunization success was introduction of the Salk vaccine in 1957 that abolished polio in the U.S., protecting children from a disabling paralysis and the ill-fated prospect of living out their lives in an iron lung.  While polio remains endemic in Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan, worldwide health initiatives have reduced the number of polio cases globally by more than 99%.  New vaccines continue to be developed.  The Gardasil vaccine, which was recently approved in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), prevents human papillomavirus infection that is a leading cause of cervical cancer.  Another large advancement would be the prospect of a “universal” influenza vaccine that appears to be within our grasp.  This vaccine would elicit neutralizing antibodies against all 17 different hemagglutinin (HA) subtypes, foregoing the need for annual flu shots and in principle offer life-long immunity with a single immunization.  
Disease outbreaks occur all over the world, in countries where effective vaccines exist and are readily available and in countries where the disease is no longer endemic.  This is best exemplified by the recent measles outbreak that originated at Disneyland/Disneyland Park Adventures. The disease wave that started in December 2014 has now spread to over 100 individuals, with measles cases in six states including Washington.  It does seem quite ironic.  You arrive at the Happiest Place on Earth only to leave with a highly contagious respiratory illness that is completely preventable.  It was reported that individuals who first contracted the measles virus ranged in age from infants to 21 years old.  The Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine is recommended for all children and administered in a two-shot series.  The first shot is given between 12 and 15 months of age and the second shot is given between 4 and 6 years of age.  What is most alarming about this current outbreak and should be highly stressed is that among the first to be infected were two infants too young to receive the MMR vaccine.  While the measles disease is usually mild in children, with symptoms including a rash, fever and mild conjunctivitis, measles infection can lead to serious complications in infants.  Thevirus can infect the lungs and cause pneumonia or compromise the central nervous system leading to encephalitis, seizures, and permanent brain damage.  
It is equally concerning that some of the initial measles cases were unvaccinated children.  Families opting out of getting their kids immunized are putting everyone else at risk for contracting highly contagious and preventable diseases.  Professor Michael Katze at the University of Washington expressed his frustration on King 5 news stating “people were so worried about Ebola where they didn’t have to be that worried.  There is no Ebola vaccine.  I think the measles outbreak is somewhat predictable because people are just not vaccinating their children.”  As a virologist, I am in agreement.  Why has vaccination become such a contentious issue?  That was the subject of discussion among Seattle community members at an event sponsored by the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research (NWABR) on December 9, 2014.  The conversation centered on the public health issue and whether vaccination should be viewed as a personal choice or a part of ones larger responsibility to the community.  During the event, we watched a screening of the local documentary “Everybody’s Business” by Laura Green that focuses on the low vaccination rates among the Vashon Island community.  
In a survey conducted by the CDC and reported in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, vaccination coverage (MMR, DTaP/DT and Varicella vaccines) analyzed among children enrolled in kindergarten for the 2012-2013 school year showed Washington State was among several states with the highest percentage (4.6%) of children exempted from receiving one or more vaccines, and the majority of the exceptions were for non-medical reasons.  From the documentary, we learned Vashon Island has one of the lowest immunization rates within the state of Washington.  Islanders are firmly planted on both sides of the public health issue.  Some Island parents strongly believe in vaccines and try to promote awareness within the community, while others resist the community pressure to vaccinate their children and hold steadfast in their personal beliefs.  No matter what side of the debate, there is no doubt that those interviewed as part of the documentary feel very strongly about their convictions, care deeply about their community and are protective parents, wanting to do what they believe is right for their families.  At times it is heart wrenching to see the divide that has stretched within the community and the strain it has brought on some of its members.  In one part of the film, there is a woman who bars her children from playing with their unvaccinated friends.  The kids are clearly oblivious to the deeper issue at hand.  The tensions between the two parents are clearly raw and the toll it seems to have taken on their relationship is apparent. The film is an important piece of cinematography that addresses a major health topic in a very personal and unprejudiced manner. It also emphasizes how personal health choice affect community building. Despite the polarizing arguments, the documentary screening brought people together to share their opinions, concerns, and expert advice on the topic.  I would encourage anyone interested in sharing their voice or wishing to get involved in the NWABR conversation. 

Jennifer Go is a scientist at University of Washington where she is applying a systems biology approach to infectious disease research. She maintains an active interest in science education and student research mentoring programs.


Tales of a Life Sciences Research volunteer

As a scientist, I find it very fulfilling to mentor inquisitive, young minds.  I enjoy coaching kids of all ages to think critically about biological problems and how to apply the scientific method.  For the youngest, it is simply rewarding to see their eyes grow wide with excitement from watching a science experiment like it were a magic trick.  The Pacific Science Center in Seattle has been a long-standing advocate of science education by sponsoring science weekends throughout the year that bring together school children and their parents with volunteers from various Seattle-based scientific organizations.  

The volunteers at the event orchestrate activity tables where kids can participate in hands-on demonstrations or interactive displays all while having fun learning about science.  My most recent experience was volunteering with Friends of FSH Research at the Life Sciences Research Weekend (LSRW) held November 7-9, 2014.  The organization was one of more than 25 participants that included academic laboratories, research institutes and biotechnology companies.     Friends of FSH Research supports scientists studying FSH muscular dystrophy, the most common form of muscular dystrophy.  Although F-S-H refers to the loss of muscle of the face, scapula and humerus, the disease is progressive and affects all skeletal muscle.  The gene that causes FSHD is called DUX4.  Unlike other diseases, FSH is not caused by a DUX4 mutation.  Instead, the piece of DNA that houses the DUX4 gene is altered, turning on production of DUX4 that is toxic to muscle protein.  The disease education and explanation was delivered by Dr. Gregory Block, the Scientific Development Director of Friends of FSH Research, who organized the volunteer table.  One scientist benefiting from the support of Friends of FSH Research is Amanda Rickard at the UW Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine, who I had the pleasure of volunteering with at the LSRW event.  Amanda studies the cellular mechanism controlling DUX4 expression that is ineffective in FSHD muscle cells.  In particular, she is interested in how DUX4 causes FSHD muscle to be different from normal muscle.  “If we can understand what DUX4 does to a muscle cell and why those changes lead to muscle weakness, then we can we develop therapeutics to stop those aberrations,” she explains.
For the LSRW activity, Dr. Block is credited with the creative idea to portray movement, stemming from muscle-bone interactions, in a manner that would be engaging and educational for children and parents.  The event was an unexpected opportunity to inform parents and community members about both FSHD and scientific research.  We found that parents were nearly as inquisitive as their children and seemed to be equally interested in science and research.  When parents were engaged their children seemed to feel free to do the same.  As Amanda noted, “I think that sort of curiosity and self-motivated quest toward understanding complicated problems is really central to work in science, and modeling it for our kids is really important.”  The goal of the interactive display was to teach kids about the importance of muscles and demonstrate what would happened in their absence or if muscles were in a weakened state, as experienced by many FSH patients.  Together we constructed an arm, the bones made of tongue depressors and the muscle made from colorful rubber bands that kept inadvertently flinging left and right.  The kids were very amused by that.  They also were clearly the experts when tasked with making muscle out of the rubber bands, which I learned are very popular for making rainbow loom bracelets.  The product of our labor was a “humerus” with “muscles” appended to it. We could even demonstrate the movement of the lower arm tongue depressor when we tugged on either the bicep or triceps muscle.  Overall, all activities were a great success.  The event was jam-packed and there was non-stop activity with kids visiting our table.  The breadth of topics covered at the LSRW event was truly incredible.  I highly encourage anyone with a budding little scientist or a child with a sense of curiosity to visit the Pacific Science Center at their next event.  Paws-On Science: Husky Weekend will be held April 10-11, 2015.

Jennifer Go is a scientist at University of Washington where she is applying a systems biology approach to infectious disease research. She maintains an active interest in science education and student research mentoring programs.


Announcements and Opportunities

In June 2015 Seattle AWIS will hold its 3rd Annual Award Banquet for Scientific Advancement and Early Career Achievement. The event is dedicated to extraordinary accomplishments of two inspiring female scientists from the Puget Sound area. The event is also Seattle AWIS’s primary fundraiser  for undergraduate STEM scholarships awarded to women attending universities in Washington State. This year we will be honoring Dr. Julie Overbaugh with the Award for Scientific Advancement and Dr. Brandi Cossairt with the Award for Early Career Achievement.
Dr. Overbaugh is an accomplished HIV scientist whose research aims to understand HIV transmission and pathogenesis, particularly in high-risk women and infants in resource-limited settings. She has been a role model and a mentor for over 60 women scientists in the US and abroad, which included graduate and undergraduate students, postdoctoral fellows and research technicians throughout her career.
Dr. Cossairt is a recent member of the  UW’s chemistry department working at the interface of inorganic, materials and energy sciences. Dr. Cossairt is developing chemical methods to discover new energy efficient technologies, create new renewable energy solutions and mitigate carbon dioxide emissions, thereby reducing the impact of the non-renewable energy use. 
In June of this year, Seattle AWIS will award scholarships to several aspiring female scientists.  These women will be majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields at four-year colleges and universities in Washington State and will have demonstrated high academic achievement, financial need, motivation to pursue a STEM career, and an excellent record of community service.

The Battelle Memorial Institute (Battelle) is contributing $10,000 to the scholarship fund this year.  Two scholarship winners will be selected to receive awards of $5000 each.  Seattle AWIS thanks Battelle for their generous support!
The last will and testament of Gordon Battelle established Battelle in 1929 “for the purpose of education in connection with and the encouragement of creative and research work and the making of discoveries and inventions.”  Today, Battelle is the world’s largest nonprofit research and development firm, with over 22,000 employees at more than 130 locations.  As such, Battelle partners with communities, states, educators, national laboratories and industry leaders to promote innovative and effective STEM education.  The Battelle Scholarship Program supports students who demonstrate a commitment to continuing and completing their education in STEM fields.  Seattle AWIS is delighted that Battelle is working with us this year to make scholarships available to women who will be among the next generation of STEM leaders.
The 2015 Seattle AWIS scholarship application is posted on the Seattle AWIS website (  Complete applications are due on February 28.  Finalists will be selected and interviewed in April, and scholarship recipients will be selected in May

The University of Washington Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) is a fellowship for under-represented and disable students who wish to pursue a career in biomedical research. Application deadline is Feb 15th. More information here.
Seattle Girls’ School needs your support in nominating visionary women leaders for our 2015 Grace Hopper Awards. 
Seattle Girls' school is seeking brilliant, innovative, collaborative and creative women, residing in the Northwest, who have made great strides in their profession or have influenced and created pathways for other women in their community. We will honor winners with the 2015 Grace Hopper Outstanding Achievement Award, and the Grace Hopper Exemplary Leadership Award, at our 13th  Annual Luncheon to be held on May 14, 2015 at the Westin, Seattle.            
The Fred Hutch is now recruiting healthy people who can donate stem cells. The procedure is known as leukapheresis, and donors may receive up to $800 compensation. Read more here.    
Sign up to judge the Middle School contest. All the judging is made online. Find more here.
AWIS Magazine have earned AWIS a Gold Medal. At the end of last year, Association TRENDS awarded the AWIS Magazine its highest honor for the "Most Improved Magazine or Journal" of 2014     
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