IEEE-USA’s 2013 Engineering Mass Media Fellow, Daniel Blustein, took his experience in biomimetic robotics research and film production to Raleigh, N.C., this summer. A Ph.D. student in the Department of Biology at Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center, Blustein reported on science and technology at The News & Observer newspaper in Raleigh, N.C., for a nine-week period that began 10 June.
“This fellowship was the perfect opportunity to combine my interests in science and media with my passion for sharing science with others,” said Blustein. “I was grateful to be selected to participate in the program, and I’m excited to see where this opportunity takes me and how it shapes my career trajectory.”
For his Ph.D. research, Blustein, 29, developed and built a robotic lobster that is controlled by a synthetic nervous system. His goal is to create an adaptive robot that can adjust to its environment like a real animal. He also hopes to better understand how nervous systems work by using the robotic lobster as a test platform for neuroscience hypotheses.
“I strive to educate others and translate my research’s impact outside of the laboratory. I am drawn to sharing my passion for science with others, as I feel strongly about using scientific knowledge to improve the everyday lives of the citizens of the world,” Blustein wrote in his application for the fellowship.
The IEEE-USA Engineering Mass Media Fellow has experience communicating with the public on science, engineering and technology topics. He worked with a science teacher at a middle school in Cambridge, Mass., to develop a neuroscience and robotics curriculum using Lego robots.
“Working on this project forced me to craft a scientific message that was accessible and engaging, and helped me refine my ability to communicate about science, a skill I drew upon this summer at the newspaper,” said Blustein.
In a letter of recommendation, the teacher wrote: “While Dan integrated complex ideas into the curriculum, he was also very good at breaking these ideas down into digestible units that could be processed by middle school students. Dan’s ability to communicate so clearly is not a skill that all scientists possess.”
As an undergraduate in biology at Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Mich., Blustein co-founded the Kalamazoo Broadcast Company, which produced programming for campus and local television channels. He also worked as a television production studio supervisor, overseeing studio use, and as a teaching assistant to introductory and advanced documentary filmmaking classes. Blustein produced a documentary film about voids for his undergraduate senior thesis project, and another about his experiences during a semester study abroad in Ecuador. He also found time to conduct research in the NASA Spaceflight and Life Sciences Training Program, and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, during college.
“I found Dan to be an intrinsically motivated, creative and intellectually curious individual,” said Ann Fraser, Blustein’s adviser at Kalamazoo College.
Following graduation, Blustein worked for two years in Hollywood, where he gained experience in film production and development. His work at Scott Rudin Productions, Spyglass Entertainment, Guy Walks into a Bar Productions, and International Creative Management on feature length films and script development provided training in media production.
In 2008, Blustein returned to graduate school, where he has produced several science videos, including a documentary that was published in the Journal of Visualized Experiments, and two award-winning videos submitted to national contests at the National Science Foundation and the Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, Blustein conducts research with the Seattle Aquarium; blogs about research at Northeastern; and enjoys scuba diving, playing volleyball, running and playing piano–in his spare time.
“[Blustein] is considered to be one of the top students in our entire graduate program,” said Blustein’s adviser at Northeastern.
After his summer fellowship, Blustein returned to Northeastern to finish his Ph.D. program. After graduating, he plans to incorporate science communication into a career in academia.
“I think that the experience of writing for a newspaper will help me share my research findings with the public in the future, and improve my writing for grant applications and scientific articles,” said Blustein. “My true passion, and the ultimate goal of my work, is to share interesting science stories with the general public.”
Abby Robinson is an IEEE Senior Member and freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C. area.