Outreach event summaries: 2017 SciCommTFs

The first class of ARVO Science Communication Training Fellows (SciCommTFs) fulfilled the requirement to host an outreach event with some very impactful gatherings. Keep up with their activities by following them on Twitter!

Krista Kelly, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow
Retina Foundation of the Southwest, USA
@kristawithaneye2017 Kelly SciCommTF

Krista's research focuses on assessing daily activities such as reading and fine motor skills in pre-school and school-age children with amblyopia. For her outreach event, she spoke with educators of young children at the Highland Park Methodist Church Day School to make them aware of what amblyopia is, how it can be detected and treated, and how it affects a child’s daily life. She described hidden signs of vision problems that teachers can watch out for, including squinting, rubbing the eyes, eye turn and tilting the head. "If even one child is detected and treated because of this event, it will have been worth it!"

Daisy Shu
Graduate Student
University of Sydney, Australia

2017 Shu podcast SciCommTF

For an episode of "The Peer Review," a podcast series she contributes to, Daisy examined the process of crowdfunding science. After talking with several research groups that successfully raised money from members of the public on websites like, Daisy launched her own crowdfunding campaign to fund her research on cataract formation. She raised over $2,000! From the podcast and crowdfunding campaign "I received many emails from academics who were intrigued by the concept of crowdfunding and wanted to crowdfund their own research. I also received many comments from backers who showed genuine interest in my research and they shared their stories about close family members who had cataract."

Himal Kandel, MSc PHEC, B. Optom
Graduate Student
Flinders University, Australia
@kandelhimal2017 Kandel SciCommTF

On World Sight Day (October 11), Himal setup a booth on Flinders campus to share his PhD research. Using hand-drawn cartoons, flyers, posters and papers, he made his work on refractive error readily approachable to the general public. Many of the people who engaged him at the booth were happy to learn more about their own refractive-error issues. And while he was the only Flinders optometry researcher sharing his work with the public in 2017, his example has inspired the Flinders' optometry department to organize multiple outreach booths in 2018.

João Barbosa-Breda, MD2017 Breda SciCommTF Medical Resident
Centro Hospitalar São João, Portugal

In front of a very attentive audience at an assisted-living home for senior citizens near Lisbon, Portugal, João led a small team to discuss vision loss. The medical professionals, two ophthalmologists and a nurse, reviewed the signs and symptoms behind the most common age-related eye diseases. The speakers then discussed what can be done to prevent and/or treat the diseases, answering many questions in the process.

Julia Johansson
Graduate Student
Tampere University of Technology, Finland
@nymarklab2017 Johansson SciCommTF

During "Blind week" in Finland, Julia partnered with the local Ophthalmology Society and Federation for the Visually Impaired to host a day-long seminar titled "Current views on vision disorders and their treatment." In front of an audience of the general public, the speakers covered topics ranging from basic biology of the eye to stem cells and new therapeutic methods for eye disorders. Speaking about the Fellowship, Julia said "I felt that vision research would be appreciated more if I had the knowledge to explain it better. Thus, I invited my immediate family it the seminar, who afterwards they said that for the first time dinner was not served with a side of gibberish."

Alexandria Trujillo
Graduate Student
University at Buffalo, USA
@March4SciBuff2017 Trujillo SciCommTF

Alexandria was one of the primary organizers of the March for Science, Buffalo last April and is organizing to repeat the event this year. The event features a march through downtown Buffalo that ends with a rally and a Science Education Fair. The Fair consists of science demonstrations, local science groups recruiting members to get involved in the community, short talks and more. 

Lauren Cornell
Graduate Student
United States Army Institute of Surgical Research, USA
@LaurenCornell32017 Cornell SciCommTF

Working in a military hospital, there is an urgent need for Lauren's research to advance to the clinic. Yet, there are few systems set up to ensure success outside of the laboratory. To help speed the bench-to-bedside process, Lauren shared a potential product stemming from her research with MBA students at the University of Texas Stan Antonio. Following the presentation, she received offers from several MBA students to create a business plan and write a provisional patent.

Gustavo Gameiro, MD
Medical Student
University of Sao Paulo, Brazil
@gameiro_gustavo2017 Gamerio SciCommTF

Gustavo approached the organizers of the Brazilian Council of Ophthalmology to host a session titled “Innovations in Medicine.” Featuring a mix of ophthalmologists, engineers, artificial intelligence developers and entrepreneurs, the session mixed lectures and discussions on how each discipline can inform decision making in others. The experience wrapped up with the audience breaking up into round tables for some interdisciplinary networking. “We had to break some new ground in organizing a student-led, interdisciplinary and interactive session within the Council program. Though difficult, it was worth it!”

Meredith Giblin
Graduate Student
Vanderbilt University, USA2017 Giblin SciCommTF

Paired with a high school volunteer through a program called “Scientists on Site” at the Nashville Adventure Science Center, Meredith worked with her partner to develop three optical illusions to share with different audiences at the museum. The “Eye Spy Board” had six different animals on it with a box full of cards attached. The cards held either a close-up of the animal’s eye or a cool fact about that animal’s eye, and kids were asked to match the eye and the fact to the animal. The “hole in the hand” activity used plastic tubes to give the optical illusion that the tube was cutting a hole in the person’s hand. For older students and adults, people could see their retinal blood vessels by taking a card with a tiny hole held directly up to their eye and looked through to a bright white surface provided. When the card moved up and down rapidly, they could see the shadow outline of their blood vessels. “Every time I host this event, I get wonderful questions from kids and parents about what my job is, what I study, and how the eye works.”

Alison Huckenpahler
Graduate Student
Medical College of Wisconsin, USA
@alisonH_MDPhD2017 Huckenpahler SciCommTF

What was scheduled to be an hour-long interactive lecture on diabetic retinopathy (DR) to a high school science club grew into a two-and-a-half hour conversation about the eye and diabetes. Starting with basic anatomy of the eye, Alison worked her way to the retina, showing OCT and fundus images from a normal patient and from a patient with severe DR. With the students highlighting differences in the images, Alison explained how the disease caused the change. She finished her discussion talking about treatments for DR, highlighting how the blood-brain barrier prevents drugs delivered orally from reaching the retina. In a flippant comment, one student asked why they didn’t just inject the drug with a needle straight into the eye. “I said ‘yes, that’s exactly what they do.’ The collective gasp from the students was extremely rewarding and showed how invested they were in the conversation.”

Clara Llorens Quintana, MSc
Graduate Student
Wroclaw University of Technology, Poland
@EDENdry​Eye2017 Quintana SciCommTF

Clara organized a “Career Day” at a high school featuring three speakers: a psychologist, a course director for a biomedical laboratory technician degree program and herself. The goal was to introduce new career options to the high school students, parents and teachers in the 50-person audience. After a short lecture by each speaker, the attendees enthusiastically took to the opportunity of asking questions. After the event, the school leadership expressed interest in building upon the activity next year. “[The school administration] wants to invite even more speakers in different careers to share what are their main tasks.”

Rachel Hutto
Graduate Student
University of Washington, USA
@rhutto3​2017 Hutto SciCommTF

Bringing vision science to a farmer’s market in Seattle, Rachel introduced the science of color vision to an audience appreciative of vibrantly-colored fruits and vegetables. With three other volunteers, Rachel developed two large posters describing how the eye detects color and what goes wrong in colorblindness. For children, a model eye was on hand for curious hands to take apart and put back together. Farmers at neighboring booths stopped by to learn more about how they see their colorful fields, and numerous individuals with various forms of colorblindness visited to share their stories and learn more about their condition.  “Personally, the most gratifying moment was when a little girl told me excitedly how she wanted to be a scientist like me one day.” Rachel plans to visit additional farmer’s markets in the spring.

David Sousa, MD, MSc
Medical Resident
Hospital Santa Maria – CHLN, Portugal

2017 Sousa SciCommTF

Working with an organization that provides free healthcare screenings to areas with limited healthcare access, David helped design and equip a van as a “mobile ophthalmology station.” Along with another ophthalmology resident and technician, David drove the van to some of the poorer neighborhoods around Lisbon to perform simple examinations (ie, refractive error, best-corrected visual acuity, intraocular pressure, and slit-lamp examination). Over 300 people were screened and referred as needed. “Given the success of this experience, we hope to repeat and extend the geographical coverage in 2018.”

Michelle Sun, MD
Medical Resident
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, USA2017 Sun SciCommTF

Healthcare is supposed to be about improving the lives of patients. But too often, the healthcare system gets wrapped up in its own needs. Michelle brought together professionals from across the many professions involved with caring for low-vision patients for a dinner discussion. Ophthalmologists, researchers, rehabilitation therapists, patient advocates and patients themselves had the opportunity to share their perspective on low vision healthcare, broadening the horizons of all attendees.



Artur Veloso, MD
Glaucoma Fellow
Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil2017 Veloso SciCommTF

Hospitals have a lot of history to them. Artur brought the rich history of Sao Geraldo Hospital to patients and the medical staff by organizing a series of lectures, tours of historical landmarks and hands-on interactions with ancient medical instruments. The feedback was positive and surprisingly uniform. “Everyone was surprised to learn about the wealth of history present in the hospital, even those who had worked there for years.” Discussions about sharing the history of Sao Geraldo Hospital annually are underway.

Annemijn Wierenga
Graduate Student
Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC), the Netherlands
@scienceAWIE2017 Wierenga SciCommTF

The LUMC is one Europe’s premier medical institutions for treating and studying uveal melanoma. After collecting topics of interest from “Stichting Melanoom,” the organization representing uveal melanoma patients and their families, Annemijn organized a “patient information evening.” First, researchers, ophthalmologists and a patient representative shared insights into the disease and its impact during a series of short talks. Then, the group of 45 participants was split into two for tours of the research labs. “I was surprised by what the patients wanted to know. We got questions like ‘do you still have my eye here,’ after which they found it great to hear that we keep all samples and eyes that we receive… I’ve already been asked when the next patient information evening will be!”

Tasneem Khatib and Craig Pearson (collaborative project)
Graduate students
University of Cambridge, UK, and National Eye Institute, USA
@BrainRepair_VGB and @CraigSPearson2017 Khatib Pearson SciCommTF

Tasneem and Craig created a scholarship for high school students in the UK based on their submission of a self-directed science research project. They received 50 applications, and 10 finalists were shortlisted to present their work at Queens College, Cambridge to a panel of judges representing the University of Cambridge, University of Oxford and the Wellcome Trust. Two winners, Benjamin Schwabe from Leicester and Nathan Harmer from the Isle of Man, were selected and together with their guardians will be flown to the US in April to attend a specially designed week-long outreach program of events. The trip will include lab tours at NIH, presentations by NIH researchers and the scholarship winners, tours of science museums in Washington, DC and participation in outreach booths hosted by ARVO and NIH at the 300,000+ attendee USA Science and Engineering Festival. Funded by the Cambridge Eye Trust and the International Biomedical Research Alliance. 

Hasenin Al-khersan, MD
Medical Resident
University of Chicago, USA

Inspired by one of the Fellowship’s in-person activities at ARVO 2017, simplifying his science into two sentences without scientific jargon, Hasenin provided the same opportunity to his co-residents. In a roundtable discussion, each participant worked out how they would describe their research in layman’s terms. The group worked together to identify public-friendly phrases to replace medical terminology. In the end, his co-residents echoed his opinion that “the chance to put to practice the communication lessons we have learned before is one of the most important takeaways from the [Fellowship].”