Skype a Scientist Founder to Give November Campus Talks, Judge Nutshell Games

This photo shows a headshot of a young white woman with dark hair. In the background is ocean and beach.
Sarah McAnulty, who founded Skype a Scientist, will speak at Virginia Tech November 15.

Sarah McAnulty, who founded and runs Skype a Scientist, a non-profit organization that connects scientists with the public, will be on campus November 15 and 16. Hosted by the Center for Communicating Science and the Virginia Tech Science Festival, McAnulty will give two communicating science talks, share her squid research at the Virginia Tech Science Festival, and serve on our judging panel for the Nutshell Games, which will take place at 4:30 p.m. November 16.

McAnulty recently finished her PhD at the University of Connecticut, where she studied how immune cells in squid recognize beneficial bacteria. Her Skype a Scientist program has connected kindergarten through grade 12 schoolkids to researchers across the country and around the world. In Skype a Scientist sessions, scientists may talk to the students about specific research projects or engage in a question-and-answer session about what it’s like to be a scientist.

The program aims to do more than provide students with science information. McAnulty wants to broaden students’ understanding of who can be a scientist.

The Skype a Scientist program works to match scientists to classrooms by scientific discipline and by demographics, providing schoolchildren from underrepresented groups with opportunities to see and communicate with scientists from those groups.

“Scientists are regular people, and we have hobbies like everyone else,” McAnulty explained in a Science Friday interview. “I think it’s really important for us to make emotional connections with people.”

Virginia Tech bat researcher and graduate student Elaine Barr participated in Skype a Scientist last December with a kindergarten classroom in Connecticut.

“Unexpectedly, the students asked some insightful questions, sometimes about things that I took for granted without considering the reason behind that behavior,” Barr said. “The students were able to stump me with one question: ‘How far can bats hear with their echolocation?’ I promised them I would look it up and get back to them.”

The Connecticut classroom teacher reported that the lesson had gotten the children excited about both bats and researchers. Barr noted that it had a positive effect on her as well: “Their excitement and thoughtful questions helped me to get out of the nitty gritty of my detailed research and think about the reasons I love to study such fascinating animals.”

McAnulty will give a talk for science festival presenters, graduate students, and other interested persons at 6 p.m. Friday, November 15. Scheduled for the Fralin Hall Auditorium, “Science is for Everyone: Making the Biggest Impact with Your Science Communication” will be preceded by a reception in the Fralin Atrium at 5:30 p.m.

Earlier that afternoon, McAnulty will speak about her experiences with Skype a Scientist. Scheduled for Fralin Auditorium at 3 p.m., “Putting a Friendly Face to Science with Skype a Scientist” will be of interest to both researchers and educators.

Both talks are open to the public free of charge. Scientists and classroom teachers interested in participating in Skype a Scientist can sign up at

This fall’s Nutshell Games will mark our fourth time hosting this friendly science communication competition, in which 30 graduate students each have 90 seconds to explain their research to a public audience and a panel of judges. The first-ever Nutshell Games was the main feature of our center opening festivities in March of 2017.

Held in conjunction with the Virginia Tech Science Festival, the Nutshell Games will take place in the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre at the Moss Arts Center at the conclusion of the day-long festival.

Three winners, determined by a panel of judges to have been the most engaging and to have communicated their research the most clearly, will each receive a $500 prize.

We’ll announce the opening of applications for the Nutshell Games in a few weeks through our website, the Graduate School’s weekly e-newsletter, and other avenues. Participants will be invited to register for a preparatory workshop to be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, November 6.

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