Dan Michel and Bella Blankenship to launch student research through COSI Learning Lab, opening doors for undergrads
Dan Michel, PhD, was a dinosaur kid. The fact that he can now walk through a dinosaur exhibit anytime he comes to work is a huge win.
Dr. Michel is a senior lecturer at The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy and the current director of the college’s Learning Lab at the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in downtown Columbus. The pharmacy Learning Lab is one of three Ohio State lab spaces at COSI – all three are in the permanent Labs in Life exhibition on the second floor.
Each week, the Learning Lab offers outreach activities to visitors. Guests can peer through the glass walls of the pharmacy lab and catch a glimpse of colorful lab equipment, child-sized workbenches and the iconic "Bob The Abra Cadaver" – an interactive mannequin used to simulate medical emergencies and tests.
The space was originally created in 2012 as a collaboration between Generation Rx, COSI and Cardinal Health. College of Pharmacy faculty and staff have shared medication safety messaging and engaged guests with pharmacology outreach for over a decade.
“I’m expanding on the great foundation that Generation Rx created,” Dr. Michel said. “I’ve reached out to all of the lab’s previous directors and they’ve provided much-appreciated guidance as we continue.”
The lab’s current outreach highlight is “DNA Medicine Made Personal,” which teaches guests about DNA as a source of biological information and how it may influence treatment in the future of pharmacy.
To visualize what this means, participants swab the inside of their cheek for cells, separate out their DNA and create a necklace out of a microcentrifuge tube and yarn that holds their genetic revelation.
“The necklace is simple to make, but giving the participants that memento to take home—particularly the children—invites them to come back for future offerings as we expand,” Dr. Michel said.
Under the leadership of Dr. Michel, the lab is shifting its focus to public health research. Dr. Michel and his colleague Bella Blankenship, PharmD, RPh, practice advancement and advocacy Fellow at the college, are planning some major next steps—with significant funding.
Drs. Blankenship and Michel were recently awarded a $10,000 grant from Ohio State’s Office of Undergraduate Education, which they’ll devote to establishing a pharmacy undergraduate research program at COSI this summer.
COSI offers a uniquely conducive environment for students to get their foot in the door with data collection and outreach. The student researchers will leverage the enthusiasm of exhibit participants and recruit them to contribute their experiences to the study’s data.
“The space gives us direct access to the public in a setting where they’re receptive to learning about science,” Dr. Michel said. “It can be difficult to get people engaged in science outreach when you’re just doing it in public, but people are drawn to COSI by their curiosity and interest in science.”
The pair is excited to offer this experience to undergraduate students, who aren’t always the first in line for research positions.
“There are so many benefits to being involved in research,” Dr. Blankenship said. “This is an opportunity for our younger students to step out of their comfort zone and get involved in a new co-curricular activity. The relationships that you build early on have a lasting impact on your professional career.”
For the planned study, students will investigate the public’s perception of prescription drug advertisements and how those advertisements affect patients’ health care decisions. Drs. Blankenship and Michel are still recruiting students for the summer and they’re excited to get started.
“I currently teach an undergraduate course and several lectures within the college,” Dr. Blankenship said. “I love the dynamic of pouring back into students, just like the people who supported my learning when I was a student. I can’t wait to form a dynamic within our team of undergrads.”