Diversity and inclusion are critical underpinnings to our evolving culture at Microsoft and powerful bridges to the marketplace. We are inspired by the local leaders who make diversity a priority in their daily work. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we’re honored to celebrate women in our community who are carrying out the mission of civic engagement, leadership and empowering other women.
– Microsoft Chicago Staff
I wasn’t particularly interested in science when I was in elementary school, but when first introduced to biology as a high school student, I got bit by the science bug. It probably had a lot to do with the teacher who was both enthusiastic and personable, and created an atmosphere of excitement and discovery that permeated throughout all of her lessons. I was really intrigued with human genetics, the workings of the human body and how its myriad parts and systems all integrated together to create the whole. From there on, my path began to lay out in front of me.
Following a short stint as a laboratory technician doing research on the impacts of cancer drugs on immune cells, I became very interested in immunology and decided to pursue a graduate degree in that field. My post-doctoral work continued the theme of host-pathogen interactions in the study of the molecular and cell biology of viruses. Although I loved the intellectual stimulation of an academic setting, over time I realized that my interests were even broader and low and behold, an opportunity to be an exhibit developer for an exhibition on genetics appeared from the Museum of Science and Industry. It was love at first sight!
Science is all about discovery. Scientists are continually searching for answers, seeking understanding, and expanding knowledge with the larger goals of figuring out how the natural world works; ultimately striving to make our lives and our world better. As a scientist leading the development of exhibitions at the Museum of Science and Industry, I’m empowered by the belief that the work that I, and the Museum, do really matters. We connect people with science; help them understand its relevance in their lives; and how to think about science as scientists do, with a critical eye and mind.
I love to hear exclamations of WOW when people first catch sight of the 40-foot-tall vortex in Science Storms, or round a corner and see the 200-foot-long U-505 submarine, see the wonder on kids’ faces as they watch baby chicks peck out of their shells in the Genetics exhibit, or watch families working together in Future Energy Chicago, a games and technology-based simulation that allows guests to design a more energy efficient city for the future. Throughout the Museum, there are countless moments for wonder, discovery, participation and human connection.
Technology can be a powerful tool for engaging people as it allows them to do something they couldn’t do otherwise. In YOU! The Experience, guests can see the blood rush through their own veins in the Vein Viewer interactive, make a 13-foot-tall virtual heart beat in time with their own, or use a face-aging software to fast forward to age 70 in Face Your Future. They can explore a virtual interpretation of how a woman’s body changes during pregnancy in Make Room for Baby and see the trajectory of human development from conception to birth through some amazing computer-generated animation. Through the use of technology, guests visiting Science Storms can create a mini tsunami in a 30-foot-long wave tank, launch a tennis ball across a 60-foot space and measure its trajectory, or create chemical reactions using a virtual periodic table. Throughout MSI, guests can experience an extraordinary array of different kinds of technologies, from the historic to the futuristic.
We often use technology to engage people, particularly kids, in learning and discovery, but sometimes technology itself presents a compelling story. For example, we tell the biotechnology story at MSI with genetically engineered frogs and plants in Genetics and a bioengineered heart valve in YOU! The Experience. The human patient simulator iSTAN TM is a compelling piece of technology used to train medical professionals. Our guests and student audiences get to see and interact with this authentic medical simulation tool—a truly unique experience and something they would most likely never have an opportunity to experience.
One of the most important things a museum can do is to change lives. People don’t necessarily expect that; they may think of a museum as a fun place to go with friends and family, a place to learn, or maybe see great art or artifacts. The Museum of Science and Industry’s mission is to inspire the inventive genius in everyone—the operative word being “inspire.” MSI can be that spark that changes lives, opens up opportunities, or sets a child on a path to a career in science or engineering or medicine. It can be the place where people understand how science is a natural part of every aspect of our lives and that it can enhance and enrich our understanding of the world.
The Museum realizes its mission of inspiration through its dynamic, transformative exhibits and engaging science education programs. In creating these amazing experiences, we develop a wide range of partnerships with universities, technology companies, medical institutions and other research organizations in our efforts to bring current, relevant science content to the general public and our school audiences. Working with these diverse partners and with our creative teams of exhibit designers, developers and technology experts creates a synergistic environment in which we can bring science and technology to life for all of our audiences.
The world is becoming increasingly complex, and there are myriad opportunities for applying scientific thinking many arenas. The skills and habits of thinking that a person develops in the process of doing science can be applied to any number of fields. More and more, science is moving in the direction of increasing collaboration among different disciplines. The explosion of “big data” science is a good example of how developments in one field can further developments in others. For example, the massive amount of data begin generated through genome sequencing will enable the development of precision medicine, and this synergy among scientific investigation and the application of a variety of scientific perspectives to big challenges will push us even further forward.
Seeing more women in the sciences is important, but it’s not just about creating more female nuclear physicists, computer scientists, astronauts and engineers. A strong science education allows girls to gain skills relevant to many careers that involve critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration. And in a highly technological society like ours, the more people engage with science and technology, the more competitive and empowered we’ll be.
Dr. Patricia Ward provides broad science leadership across the Museum’s exhibition work, leading creative teams of exhibit developers, designers, writers, and media producers. In her 16 years at the Museum, Dr. Ward has produced exhibitions on various science topics including genetics, health, energy and climate change and has been active in numerous outreach efforts including public symposia and workshops for teachers and pre-college students. She develops partnerships with universities and other organizations that synergize with the Museum’s efforts to bring current, relevant science content to the general public and school audiences. Recent exhibition projects include the award-winning Future Energy Chicago and YOU! The Experience.
Dr. Ward earned a Ph.D. in Immunology from the University of Chicago and was a NIH post-doctoral fellow in Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology at the U of C before joining the Museum in 1999. Patty has published widely in the areas of tumor immunology, molecular genetics, and the cell biology of herpes simplex virus. She was a 2012 Noyce Leadership Institute Fellow and in 2013, was named a fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.