Inspiring the Next Generation of Scientists

Our K-12 STEAM+Ag® programs and curricula aim to engage diverse students to explore STEM concepts. Through virtual laboratories, professional development training for teachers, and authentic research experiences, we are increasing the accessibility of plant science education opportunities. Our Education Research and Outreach Lab bases our outreach on cutting-edge research questions that continually increase our understanding of how students learn STEM.

Research Opportunities for High School Students

Become an Intern!

Are you a high school student interested in STEAM research? Apply to our high school internship program to work in a plant and agricultural research center. You will have the opportunity to get hands-on research experience by collecting data, collaborating with teammates, disseminating your results and learning from scientists.

Prior to applying for an internship, it is important to understand the type of research being done in the labs at the Center. On the application (question 16), you will be asked to list up to three labs that match your research interests, and why. To get you started, you can see the research areas at the Danforth Center. We then invite you to look through our list of Principal Investigators (PIs) to determine which labs align with your interests.

Things to think about: Our scientists work in various settings. Some work in a traditional or “wet” laboratory, doing bench research. Others work in outdoor field plots, or in greenhouses. Some do most of their work computationally. Often there is a combination of all of these modalities. Which setting, or “modality”, fits your interests?

Students must be 16 years or older to apply.

Please apply through our Careers page. (Applications for this position are open February 1st - March 1st each year.)

Questions about high school internships? Contact Shannon Gabbert.

Authentic Research Experiences

Engaging student scientists in foundational research happening at the Danforth Center.

Mutant Millets
Did you know students contribute to foundational research happening at the Danforth Center? Our Mutant Millets program brings real science research into classrooms and allows students to begin engaging in the scientific process. In Mutant Millets, we focus on a plant called Setaria viridis, or green foxtail millet. While Setaria is often considered a weed, it is extremely valuable to scientific research. Not only is it related to an economically important plants like corn and sugarcane, but scientists have also sequenced its entire genome, making it useful for comparative genomics with cereal crops.

At the Danforth Center, scientists have over 3,000 different Setaria viridis mutant families. Mutant plants are those whose genetic make-up has been changed, and mutations help scientists identify and study the functions of genes. Through Mutant Millets, students can help our researches identify mutant traits in Setaria plants, and contribute to our scientific research.

Mutant Millets equips teachers with professional development training, supplies, and laboratory-generated mutant seed populations of Setaria viridis for their students to grow in their classrooms to familiarize them with skills in scientific research. As data is collected, students will also input their findings that will be utilized by scientists at the Center. Learn more about Mutant Millets.

Discovering Volvox Development
In our Discovering Volvox Development (DVD) program, middle and high school students can contribute to real scientific research happening at the Danforth Center. Through DVD, students will screen for development mutants in the green algae Volvox carteri. Volvox is a visually-engaging organism that students use for learning important lessons on the concept of organismal life cycles. Volvox is an experimentally tractable multicellular species with recently evolved germ and somatic cell types, which is under investigation in the laboratory of Danforth Center Principal Investigator Jim Umen to understand the origins of multicellularity.

The highly-visual nature of Volvox makes scientific research exciting for students. It is also easily cultured and screened for mutants, making DVD a great opportunity for students to engage in an authentic research experience. Students document their contributions by uploading their data to the DVD website that provides updates on how their Volvox discoveries are being utilized in the laboratory. This program offers professional development to educators and supplies and support for classroom settings and for independent projects conducted at home by students.

Contact Ash Kass to get started with DVD.

Genotype to Phenotype
In this program, high school and college students can grow their own corn seedlings, learn ways to measure leaf angles, and contribute real data to the laboratory of Danforth Center Principal Investigator Andrea Eveland, Ph.D. Through this experience, teachers and students are trained in concepts of genetics as they relate to agriculture, food security, and data science.

Leaf angle in corn plants plays a role in determining plant density (how many plants can be grown per acre) and yield (the number of ears of corn that are produced per acre). In Dr.  Eveland’s Lab, research is being conducted to identify genetic factors that regulate the variation in leaf angle. Through Genotype to Phenotype, students will grow corn seedlings of hundreds of corn genotypes and measure the leaf angles manually and through image analysis.

In a second exercise, students test for the presence of specific changes in the DNA of the corn plants in order to understand the correlation between these genotypic changes and the variation in the phenotypes (physical characteristics) of the plants. By screening hundreds of corn genotypes, students contribute molecular and phenotypic data that can help the Eveland lab develop predictive models to determine the leaf angle of an adult plant based on the seedling data.

Contact Ash Kass to get started with Genotype to Phenotype.

Education Technology

Using cutting-edge technology to inspire students to pursue STEM careers.

STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) uses augmented and virtual reality to help connect design with science and technology. Through this program, students create 3D models of plant objects in collaborative teams. Each team consists of a self-identified scientist, technophile, and artist who have to work together to complete the model. Through this collaboration, students learn that art and design are an essential part of science. Students will visit the Danforth Center, interact with researchers, and present their projects to Danforth Center scientists. By integrating design and technology through STEAM, we can prepare a diverse group of students for STEM careers.

Through this program, our Education Research lab will examine how students can benefit from innovative learning experiences in plant science, and how these experiences improve student attitudes towards STEAM subjects and interests in STEM careers.

Virtual Laboratories
Due to the limited resource availability of rural schools to science research facilities and scientific laboratories, rural schools have disproportionately low student STEM engagement. Using Virtual Reality, we want to make science education accessible in rural high schools throughout Missouri. Our Virtual Laboratories utilize technology like electronic tablets, laptops, Smart phones, VR headgear and controllers, and zSpace systems to make scientific research an immersive experience in all types of classrooms.

With virtual laboratories, students will learn to interact with real data collected by Danforth Center scientists. They will use virtual and augmented reality platforms, experience “science-in-the-making” and engage in authentic problem solving. The VR lab environment will foster students' engagement in science practice and collaboration, with interactivity that allows students to feel immersed in the laboratory setting. It will also allow students the autonomy to make choices that influence outcomes positively or negatively with the freedom to fail.

 Educational Technology Professional Development
Our Education Research Lab is currently training teachers to learn to interact with real data using virtual and augmented reality (AVR) platforms. This allows teachers to develop lesson plans that can increase connectivity to plant, food, and agricultural sciences. It will also enable them to create more experiential learning opportunities for their students. AVR equipment is available to educators on a loan rotation system.

Contact Sandra Arango-Caro to get started with Educational Technology Professional Development.

Education Access

Using plant science education to reduce trauma in displaced students.

Natural disasters and geopolitical conflicts create barriers for students to access formal education. As a vulnerable subset of the population, displaced students are particularly at risk for mental health issues due to trauma, violence, and human trafficking. Through DiScuSs, we want to engage displaced and refugee students in STEM education to provide them with an outlet for coping with trauma and stress.

Students will engage in citizen science style projects collecting data for everything from mosquito species (by taking pictures of adult mosquitos) to health symptoms (to help healthcare professionals target aid).

By monitoring anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder levels, our Education Research Lab can determine if the protective nature of “thinking activities” for displaced students is through engagement in learning new content alone, or if it is additionally impactful when students are engaged in the practice of science. By determining the best way to educate students experiencing trauma, we can use better evidence-based teaching practices for students with PTSD.

Education Tools

Creating resources to combat plant blindness.

Plant Blindness Inventory
Plant blindness is the inability to notice plants in your own environment, and the inability to recognize the importance of plants in our daily lives. Our Education Research Lab is collaborating with the University of Memphis to validate a tool that will help assess plant blindness with students from 8-12th grade. The goal is to use the data collected through the inventory to improve STEM education content that can address knowledge gaps.

Education Research Lab Newsletter