Undergraduate Science Journal Chronicles Research and Promotes Scientific Literacy
by Rachel Clarke, A15
"We try to make science accessible to everyone," says Chinami Michaels, A15, creative director of Tufts undergraduate science magazine, Breakthrough. The publication, which has been released once a semester since its first issue in 2009, operates with a mission of making science interesting and comprehensible. The magazine, which released its first full-color issue last spring, is published online and distributed on the Medford/Somerville campus.
The 2014-2015 Breakthrough magazine staff
Isabel Yannatos, A15, Breakthrough's chief managing editor, acknowledges that some of the material covered in Breakthrough is heavily scientific and that many Tufts students are not used to digesting such scientific terminology. Although the ultimate goal of the magazine is to publicize important science-related achievements, research, and events, the editors attempt to make the material comprehensible to the student body at large. "Editing is an important part of the process," says Yannatos, acknowledging that she, content editor Jennifer Hammelman, A16, and copyeditor Jeremy Marcus, A16, often assign articles to editors who don't have expertise in the topic at hand to ensure that the average reader will be able to understand the scientific methodology and terminology discussed.
Yannatos, whose role at the magazine is primarily a managerial one, emphasizes that the editors are always looking for students with fresh ideas and new perspectives to join their team. Currently, the staff comprises fifteen Tufts undergraduate students. While most are science and engineering majors, Yannatos emphasizes that the group is open to all students. "Anyone can get involved with any part of the process," she says, "It's a great chance to do something science-related, but at the same time have a break from hard science."
Chinami Michaels created this illuminated "A" (above) based on a research illustration provided by the lab featured in the article "A Classical Genetics Story" (below).
Since the magazine draws students from a variety of backgrounds, its leaders understand that many of Breakthrough's writers, editors, and readers will not necessarily pursue careers in science following graduation. Yannatos, however, sees extraordinary benefits in working for a publication like Breakthrough, regardless of one's academic interests or background. "The process of writing and editing is helpful to learn how to communicate scientific research to a broad range of people in an accurate, yet accessible and exciting way," she says. Yannatos contends that even if the magazine staff doesn't go into journalism or science for a career, "successful scientific communication is a useful skill to have."
Breakthrough's leadership includes students with diverse academic backgrounds. Chinami Michaels, A15, is a dual-degree student majoring in biology at Tufts and attending the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. She wants to pursue a career in medical illustration following graduation. "It's a really smart group of people," Michaels says of Breakthrough, noting that the magazine's meetings often include a scientific fact of the day, a discussion of research, science jokes, and, admittedly, gossip about professors.
Michaels is now in charge of coordinating the magazine's layout and managing the team of illustrators and graphic designers who contribute artistically to the magazine. She believes that visuals are helpful in communicating scientific ideas to readers. "Graphics and illustrations are instrumental in making the information presented clear, and making it more accessible by contextualizing the work being presented."
The articles span a variety of topics, ranging from student accounts of personal experiences—one student recently published an article about organic chemistry research she conducted during a semester abroad in Chile—to stories about black holes and the scientific benefits of studying cheese. Yannatos says that the magazine is working to boost coverage of underrepresented scientific fields, such as physics and astronomy, since past issues have had a significant focus on biology. For the spring 2015 issue, the staff will choose a theme, says Yannatos, such as the environment and sustainability. "We encourage our staff writers to look at a broad range of research and we encourage submissions on any topic," she adds.
Fall 2014 edition of Breakthrough
The December issue of Breakthrough includes articles on Assistant Professor of Biology Ben Wolfe's investigation of the microbiology of food, the interdisciplinary research initiative of the Tufts Institute for Innovation, and an undergraduate's summer research experience developing new drug testing methods to eliminate doping in sports.
Yannatos believes scientific literacy is important and undervalued in our society. "Understanding scientific principles enables the public to make better-informed decisions… and will help combat problems such as climate change, non-renewable energy dependence, disease outbreaks, and antibiotic resistance," she says. "Getting people excited about research that leads to concrete benefits is one way to increase support for these endeavors, and make people more inclined to see the importance of funding STEM fields. It is easier to connect to an article about a cool discovery that was made right here on your campus, than it is to connect to abstract concepts."
Past issues of Breakthrough can be found on the magazine's website.
Students wishing to get involved with Breakthrough can contact the magazine at firstname.lastname@example.org.