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Portrait of Raven Baxter.

Published May 5, 2020

By MICHELLE KEARNS

Raven the Science Maven, fights the virus in Buffalo

Student joins city effort, launches experiment challenge to encourage teens to stay home and safe

Within days of the pandemic shutdown, GSE PhD student Raven Baxter produced an educational rap music video about the virus, posted it to YouTube and it went, well, viral. In the months since, newscasters from New York City to Hawaii broadcast her video and the infectious song and lyrics — “Get some soap, scrub it down and show me how you do it!” — inspired Buffalo’s mayor’s office to ask for her help.  

“They basically were like, ‘We’ve seen your videos and we love what you’re doing,’” said Baxter, 26, a Curriculum, Instruction and the Science of Learning PhD student with a concentration in science education.

Her rap video sensation “Wipe It Down” was a remix of Lil Boosie’s “Wipe Me Down.” It is the third in a series of rap videos she made for an album she intends to release later this month about her journey as a scientist. She’s calling it “The Protocol” because she wants to “usher in a new zeitgeist” in science “where people from a diversity of backgrounds feel comfortable being themselves while pursuing science.”

This week Baxter — AKA Raven the Science Maven — will officially join Buffalo PAUSE, a new project sponsored by Mayor Byron Brown’s office. She will encourage city teens to stay home and safe, try weekly science experiments and post videos for a contest featured on the mayor’s and Baxter’s Instagram accounts — @mayorbyronbrown716 and @raventhesciencemaven.

The first experiment challenge was announced Monday: Show how soap plays a role in stopping the spread of disease. Try the pepper and water science trick and make a video of the experiment involving water, pepper and dish soap.

PhD student Raven Baxter conducting an experiment at the dinner table.
PhD student Raven Baxter conducting an experiment at the dinner table.

“You get to see science in motion. It’s literally a hands-on activity, which is very simple, but you could use it to talk about a higher level of subject matter,” said Baxter. “I want the teenagers of Buffalo to recreate the experiment and explain it back. I’m planning on increasing the difficulty of the challenges every week. The real challenge is communicating the science behind it.”

Baxter, who worked as a cancer researcher and taught college biology before coming to UB, plans a career in science communication. She wants to break down stereotypes about scientists and develop innovative curricula.

She developed her “Science Maven” persona, along with her website — scimaven.com — thinking of young adults and broader audiences. So, it was exciting when the mayor’s director of diversity asked her to join Buffalo PAUSE and help reach young people in the African-American community, which has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“I will say that I’m really glad that my voice is being heard. I’m really grateful for the support,” she said. “Operating as a science communicator at a citywide level is definitely a step in the right direction.”

The weekly challenges are open to anyone between the ages of 13 and 18; winners will receive Amazon gift cards. As the contest unfolds, Baxter’s goal is to engage students at home with experiments they can do with things they find around the house. And, she said, “keep them entertained and learning and doing something educational, apart from their regular schoolwork.”

In addition to her GSE studies, Baxter teaches chemistry and directs the college STEM program at the Health Sciences Charter School in Buffalo. When she transitioned to virtual class work, she developed a worksheet based on her “Wipe It Down” lyrics. Students had to go on a “web quest” to interpret the words and find answers to questions like “What does corona mean?” and “Scientific research takes a lot of time to develop. Do scientists know everything there is to know about COVID-19?”

She’s grateful that public alarm about the virus has come with new public curiosity about science. The pandemic, and the project with the mayor’s office, are communication opportunities that she hopes will lead to new awareness.

“Science is relevant to everyday life. It shouldn’t just be when a pandemic is occurring,” she said. “The reality is we really should be thinking about science every day.”

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