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Science Learning with Interactive Virtual Education (LIVE)

Early education and instruction in STEM disciplines lay foundations for the pursuit of scientific endeavors. Current lesson plans to teach science in primary education often focus solely on preparing students for government-mandated standardized tests. However, studies have found that childhood exposure to hands-on science and encouragement of interest before grade 8 may have a significant impact on later scientific pursuits (Tai et al., Science 2006).

The RNA Therapeutics Institute (RTI), Department of Microbiology and Physiological Systems (MaPS), the Program in Systems Biology (PSB)  and Sanderson Center for Optical Experimentation (SCOPE) have partnered to develop a science outreach program for our local Worcester area middle schools. We aim to foster educational opportunities by creating a program in which diverse graduate students and postdoctoral fellows facilitate exciting, hands-on activities for middle school students (grades 7 and 8), all designed for virtual teaching during ongoing the COVID-19 pandemic. 

One of our goals is to highlight diversity among practicing scientists in order to help combat gender and underrepresented minorities (URM) gaps in American science and inspire young students with the vision that anyone can pursue STEM professions. We aim to engage students by piquing their curiosity and providing them with the scientific tools to discover the world around them.

We will provide equipment, materials, and resources for scientific modules that follow the following format: (1) a 5-10 minute topical video, (2) a 20 minute ‘Ask A Scientist’ ZOOM session with a STEM trainee, and (3) a relevant hands-on activity virtually led by our trainee(s). Educators will be present for the activity to monitor progress and help answer student questions.

A peek into one of our previous modules (children & parents consented to be filmed):


Our Fall 2021 workshops will be taking place virtually within the Worcester Public Middle Schools.

Current 2021 Fall Modules:

  • The Building Blocks of Life (exploring cell and molecular biology)
  • Designing Prosthetic Limbs (exploring biomechanical engineering)
  • Doctor's Orders: Finish your antibiotics! (exploring microbiology)
  • DNA Sequences are a BLAST! (exploring bioinformatics and evolutionary biology) 
  • A Day in the Life of a Scientist

In Development:

  • Photoshopping genes (exploring genetics and biochemistry)
  • The Natural World (exploring science in your backyard)
  • The RNA World (exploring biochemistry)
  • Why the Spike Protein? (exploring virology and cell biology)
  • Wrapping Your Brain Around It (exploring neuroscience)
  • Career Pathways in STEM interactive website

The RTI/SCOPE ScienceLIVE Outreach Program was developed, supported, and managed by faculty and educators, and driven by University of Massachusetts Medical School trainees, working together to bring educational hands-on science activities to students in the Worcester Public Schools. We understand the tight nature of public-school budgets and have arranged to provide materials for hands-on activities with funding from the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Boston Scientific Foundation.

For more information or participate in our outreach program, please email


ScienceLIVE has been made possible with support and funding from The Office of Community and Government Relations, the departments of MaPSRTI, PSB, and the SCOPE.

  • Angela Messmer-Blust

    Angela Messmer-Blust, PhD

    Senior Scientific Advisor, Assistant Professor, RNA Therapeutics Institute

    Dr. Angela Messmer-Blust studied cell motility during her graduate studies at the University of Toledo where she received her PhD (2009). She began her postdoctoral research at the CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School under Jian Li, investigating transcriptional regulation in diabetes and obesity. Following her postdoctoral studies, she held editorial positions at the Journal of Visualized Experiments, and later joined Cell Press as the director of scientific conferences from 2012 - 2017. In 2017, Dr. Messmer-Blust joined the faculty of the RNA Therapeutics Institute as Assistant Professor and Senior Scientific Advisor where she develops and directs departmental initiatives including the annual RNA Therapeutics symposium and educational outreach in the Worcester area.

  • Athma Pai

    Athma Pai, PhD

    Assistant Professor, RNA Therapeutics Institute

    Dr. Pai is an RNA systems geneticist who uses functional genomics and computational approaches to address open questions in mammalian gene regulation. Athma received her Ph.D. from the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Chicago, working with Yoav Gilad and collaborating closely with Jonathan Pritchard’s group on human and comparative genomics analyses. She then moved on to postdoctoral research as a Jane Coffin Childs fellow at MIT working with Christopher Burge, focusing on understanding the changes in mRNA splicing after immune response and developing methods to measure the dynamics of such processes. Athma assumed her current position as an Assistant Professor in the RNA Therapeutics Institute at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in January 2018. Her lab works on developing and applying methods to study the kinetics of RNA processing and understanding how various steps in RNA maturation are coordinated through lifecycle of an RNA molecule.

  • Christina Baer

    Christina Baer, PhD

    Director, Sanderson Center for Optical Experimentation, Assistant Professor, Microbiology and Physiological Systems

    Dr. Baer completed her PhD in Biophysics at the University of California, Berkeley, CA.  Sher has been the director of the SCOPE since 2017. Her extensive experience with wide-field, confocal, and multi-photon imaging, plus skills in molecular tools development and quantitative image analysis provides essential scientific support to the University of Massachusetts Medical School research community. SCOPE has become a catalyst for optical experimentation at UMMS, serving as a site where engineers and biologists interact to develop innovative instruments and analysis methodologies that are readily accessible to the community.

  • Mary Pickering

    Mary Pickering, PhD

    Senior Scientist

    Dr. Mary Pickering has had a long-standing interest in cell cycle research. She completed her PhD and postdoctoral work at the University of Massachusetts Medical School studying the cellular signaling pathways that regulate cell cycle progression and timing, DNA damage responses, and apoptosis. She is currently investigating the mechanism(s) regulating cell size homeostasis, using the model organism, Schizosaccharomyces pombe (S.pombe). When not at the bench, Dr. Pickering is committed to educating the next generation of scientists, by serving as a Visiting Assistant Professor at area colleges and developing virtual and hands-on educational outreach opportunities at area public elementary and middle schools. She hopes to spark curiosity and cultivate creativity for science students inside and outside the classroom.