Wisconsin Catholic schools will no longer visit Wisconsin Institute for Discovery

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A local story with some import for science education in Wisconsin: “Catholic Diocese prohibits field trips to Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery”.

The WID is a large public-private research center on the UW-Madison campus that opened in late 2010, and houses research on systems biology, stem cell research, virtual environments, and a few other core focuses. The Town Center is a large public space that hosts lectures, science activities and events, and business partnerships. The education/outreach mission of the WID has been a great addition to K-12 opportunities in the southern Wisconsin area. So to see this decision, which potentially affects more than 7000 kids, is very unfortunate for those of us advancing science education/outreach:

The diocesan investigation was triggered last spring by concerns from parents and priests, Lancaster said. While the research center offers many valuable educational programs that pose no moral or theological issues for Catholics, it also offers a workshop for middle and high school students in which they work with live human stem cells, he said.
Stem cell research is one of 10 general field trip topics offered by the research center, and the hands-on stem cell workshop is one of five options within the stem cell field trip category. Other field trips deal with topics such as how fossils were formed, how DNA works and how ecosystems work together to grow food.
During the last school year, the research center hosted more than 20,000 school-age children, their families and teachers through Town Center, the public educational arm that runs all of the field trips and workshops, said spokeswoman Janet Kelly. Of those, fewer than 200 participated in a hands-on stem cell workshop, she said.

This is the space where the UW Darwin Day activities have been held for the past three years, for which my lab always brings down a full complement of hominin fossil casts as part of the “Tree of Life” series for kids. I must admit that the baby squids are always slightly cuter than our fossils.

In related news, I’ll be giving a talk in the WID this Tuesday in the Systems Biology seminar series.

UPDATE (2013-09-10): The original link was moved; I’ve fixed it as long as it doesn’t move again…