Purpose: With inspiration from the SN 10 scientists, students will explore how their own interests combined with collaboration with a partner can lead to a specific science research question.

Procedural overview: Students will partner up, choose an SN 10 scientist and read the article about that scientist. After answering questions about the scientist and their own scientific interests, students will role-play with their partners to develop an idea for a collaborative research project with their chosen scientist. 

Approximate class time: 2 class periods to complete the activity questions, present the oral reports and debrief as a class. 


Internet access
The SN 10:Scientists to Watch list
Access to the Science News archive

Directions for teachers: 

To explore concepts in science and understand how collaboration can help further scientific study, students will work in pairs to identify shared interests with an SN 10 scientist. They will then role-play with partners to develop a research question.

Explain to students that collaboration is a valuable way to explore interesting areas of science, develop research questions and figure out how to answer those questions. Often scientists can do more together than they can do on their own because they bring different perspectives to a topic and can share their knowledge, experiences and skillsets. Collaborators can brainstorm and push each other to scrutinize ideas and approaches.

1. Tell your students to partner up and, with their partner, identify one of the SN 10 scientists from 2019 or a previous year to read about. After reading the article, students should discuss the scientist’s work and answer the questions provided. Encourage students to follow the links at the end of the SN 10 story to an original research paper to get more details on the scientist’s research question or questions.

2. Next tell the students to think about their own interests. Use the prompts provided to have them explore what they are interested in and what area of scientific research they might be curious to pursue.

3. One student in each pair will first role-play as the SN 10 scientist, while the other students play themselves, using their own interests as a guide. Students should use the prompts provided to begin a conversation about overlapping interests. Students should then apply what they learn to develop a research question and discuss some details of how they might carry out that research.

4. Tell the students to switch roles to give the other partner a chance to be the SN 10 scientist.

5. Each student will then give a two-minute oral presentation to the rest of the class describing the scientist they chose, the scientist’s research, the student’s research interests and what research question the student and scientist are going to investigate together. Students should describe why this research question is suited to the student and the scientist.

6. Following the presentations, students should discuss the final questions as a class.

Students’ research questions need not be unique or novel. If students are concerned that they will not come up with a unique research project, assure them that the purpose of much of scientific research is to confirm and validate previous findings. Remind students that they can use the research conducted by the scientist as a springboard for a slightly modified scientific question. Collecting new data or using different methods to research the same question can also be as useful as asking a brand-new question.

Example collaboration:

To introduce students to the idea of the activity, consider discussing the example below about a student working with marine ecologist Malin Pinsky, whose work was described in “Malin Pinsky seeks to explain how climate change alters ocean life.” In this example, the student is interested in music and wonders how research into sound could intersect with Pinsky’s work. 

In the Science News article “Malin Pinsky seeks to explain how climate change alters ocean life,” marine scientist Malin Pinksy describes his “lightbulb moments.” A lightbulb moment is a moment of sudden realization, as if you had turned on a light that illuminates a new vista of possibility. Such a moment can also be called an aha moment or an epiphany. Malin Pinksy’s lightbulb moments were seeing whales in the Antarctic, and realizing how outdated ocean policies are. His lightbulb moments furthered his interest in marine ecosystems. Now Malin Pinsky studies how rising global temperatures are changing marine ecosystems and what we can do about it.

In this example, a student interested in music is wondering how to collaborate with Malin Pinsky. The student has had a lightbulb moment of her own. Her grandfather is hard of hearing and when she went to the pool with him, she noticed that he couldn’t hear well on the pool deck, but he was able to hear better underwater. The student wondered how animals that live underwater might experience human-created sounds in their environment.

Malin Pinsky knows about a number of reports investigating how noise can affect marine life. Working together, the student and Pinsky decide to design experiments to explore how different sounds associated with energy harvesting — different pitches, rhythms and volumes — might affect fish populations.

Pinksy’s understanding of aquatic ecosystems is useful because he brings experiences and skills studying animal behavior. In turn, the student could help explain the various properties of sounds that might influence that behavior and find sample noises to play in underwater experiments. Additional collaborators could also be helpful to the project. For instance, a physicist could bring knowledge about how sound waves travel through water with various properties.  

The pair’s hypothesis is that if a sound is very loud and very deep, it will carry well underwater and is more likely to influence fish behavior.

Directions for students:
Your SN 10 scientist

With your partner, identify one of the SN 10: Scientists to Watch to read about. You can choose a scientist from the 2019 list or search the archive for another scientist. After reading the article, think about your scientist and the sorts of things he or she is studying and answer the following questions.

1. Which scientist’s work did you choose to read about? Why?

2. Why is the scientist interested in his or her work? Did the scientist have any “lightbulb moments” or other life experiences that sparked interest in this work?

3. Based on the article, give an overview of the scientist’s current research. 

4. Find a primary research paper authored by the scientist. What is the research question posed in this paper? What is the hypothesis?

5. In what area(s) of science does the scientist specialize? Is the scientist’s work cross-disciplinary?

6. How does the scientist take advantage of collaboration or expertise from other disciplines in his or her work?

Your interests

Consider your own interests and answer the following prompts. 

7. What are you most interested in?

8. Is there a field of science or scientific topic that your interest connects to?

9. Is there something about that scientific topic that you’d like to know more about?

10. Is there a problem in your life, family, community that connects to the topic?

11. Have you had any lightbulb moments related to the problem or topic?

12. How could research in your area of interest be improved by collaboration? 

Birth of collaboration

Now it’s time to role-play. Either you or your partner should play the role of the SN 10 scientist and the other should be a student collaborator or mentee (playing yourself). Discuss the similarities and differences in your work to try to come up with a shared research question. Be sure to ask each other questions to go deeper into each other’s interests. Share knowledge, and follow up on whatever sparks your curiosity. Use the prompts below if you get stuck. Be sure to switch roles so that you each have the experience of collaborating with the SN 10 scientist you chose.  

Student: Can you tell me a little bit about your research?

Scientist: What aspects of this research sound interesting and resonate with you?

Student: How did you get inspired and involved in the project?

Scientist: What other areas of science generally interest you? Is there something in school that you’ve studied that you’d like to learn more about?

Student: What area of science do you specialize in? Would you consider your work to be cross-disciplinary, covering multiple areas of science?

Scientist: Are there local issues or problems that you’re interested in solving?

Student: What are other scientific questions that you’d like to explore?

Scientist: Can you think of a scientific question that we could collaborate to answer?

Student: What data could we collect to investigate our question? Is there specialized equipment that we would have to use and have access to in order to collect the data?

Scientist: Based on the data collected, what could be our proposed hypothesis?

Present and debrief

Based on your role-playing, you and your partner should each prepare a two-minute presentation to explain the scientific question you might ask with your SN 10 scientist and your hypothesis. Discuss any methods you will use during your research and why the research project is of interest to you and your scientist. After the presentations, be prepared to answer the following questions as a class.

13. How did collaborating with a classmate help to clarify and/or expand your research interests?

14. What did you find helpful about working toward a research question with a collaborator?

15. What was hard about working with a collaborator? How did you overcome these obstacles?