Viruses that kill by causing SARS and dengue fever. Viruses that fell parrots and destroy colonies of bees. Almost 200 high school students from across the Washington, D.C., area learned firsthand how scientists study the emergence and spread of these and other deadly viruses on December 2–3 at the 2010 Holiday Lectures on Science. At least 3,000 others watched the live webcast of the lecture series, Viral Outbreak: The Science of Emerging Disease.
Eva Harris, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told students about her experience studying dengue fever with scientists and clinicians in Nicaragua and their efforts to improve detection and treatment. Harris showed a music video produced by local musicians that helped educate the public on how to control mosquitoes, which carry the virus.
The students also learned how scientists identify previously unknown viruses from HHMI investigator Joseph L. DeRisi, aof the University of California, San Francisco. DeRisi showed them how he distinguishes new threats from older viruses by using a microchip technology he developed called Virochip. He also described the different types of viruses and gave each student a brightly colored, racquetball-sized virus model created on a three-dimensional printer in his lab.
After the lectures, students got to try their hands at virus identification, working in small teams to analyze virus data from DeRisi's lab, or talk with public health experts who work to control the spread of mosquito-borne diseases in the United States, such as dengue fever and West Nile virus.
In addition to the students, 14 teachers from the United States and Canada attended the lectures and spent the next few days brainstorming to create related lessons as a resource for other teachers.