Recent BTP trainee Erin Birdsall’s thesis earns science communication award

Erin Birdsall
Erin Birdsall is a recent BTP trainee and graduate of the Department of Chemistry.

Recent BTP trainee and Department of Chemistry graduate student Erin Birdsall has received a 2022 Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy (WISL) Award for Communicating Ph.D. Research to the Public for including a chapter in her dissertation to describe her research to non-science audiences. 

The chapter appeared in her thesis titled, “2D infrared spectroscopy for the study of membrane bound proteins and peptides.” Birdsall’s Ph.D. research in the Zanni Lab combined surface-enhanced two-dimensional spectroscopy and ultra-fast lasers with biology to study membrane-bound proteins, work that will help scientists understand how nerves and other biological entities work.  

“The work we do in the Zanni group is meant to better understand the world and it is vital to communicate these ideas to the public who, through tax dollars, fund the work that we do and therefore have a stake in our results,” Birdsall writes in her chapter. “Many thanks to the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy at UW–Madison for the opportunity to communicate my work to the public.” 

After defending her Ph.D. research, Birdsall began a postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution, where she uses spectroscopy and spectrometry to study how display cases can impact objects and determines methods to verify object cleaning after contamination. 

In 2010, WISL Director Bassam Shakhashiri started a program to encourage Ph.D. students in the chemical sciences to include a thesis chapter geared at a general audience and pledged a cash award from the organization for each successfully completed chapter. The goal of the chapters is to explain the candidate’s scholarly research and its significance to a wider audience that could include family members, friends, civic groups, newspaper reporters, state legislators, or members of the U.S. Congress. The award mechanism has since expanded to other fields of science around campus.