Update Corner: STEM Fastrack; Collections Funding Restored; Collections Underused

Two updates on previously posted stories.

Back in April, the comic strip On the Fastrack had a storyline involving the character Fistula Breech (usually called Fi in the strip) giving a speech to girls about science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.  Starting on June 20th (but only revealing the STEM connection on June 21), that story was revisited.  This time the story line focuses more on how much Fi is *not* interested in making the presentation and how that eventually affects the speech.  I shan’t spoil anything (for all I know, the story will continue tomorrow), but my favorite of this stretch so far is the June 24th strip.

Also in April, I noted that an infrastructure program sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) would have its funding suspended pending a program review.  It’s the program from the Division of Biological Infrastructure that supports biological specimen collections.  Thankfully the NSF decided to continue funding (on an alternate year basis) while the review continues.  Community feedback likely influenced the change of heart, as many researchers and scientific societies described the value of this program to research in their comments to the agency.

It’s a move consistent with this call from the Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History to increase funding for such collections.  Kirk Johnson described the value of historical collections to help track and fight diseases for Smithsonian.com   (H/T The FrogHeart Daily) He went into further detail in an op-ed for The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences with colleagues from the museum, the Department of Health and Human Services and Columbia University.  In that piece the authors make the case not just for utilizing existing collections to help with diseases like the Zika virus and the emergence of hanta virus in the 1990s, but to make collections of relevant specimens during disease outbreaks in order to help track the disease and be better prepared for the possibilities of the disease coming back.