Nervous System Engineers

Superpowered by Stem Cells

Have you ever wondered how scientists study the nervous system?

First, meet Miranda to learn why this kind of research matters in real life today, and then join the Nervous System Engineers as they make neural tubes and study the nervous system, with a goal to improve lives through science. Grab your science notebook to take notes as you go, and then share your discoveries with others!

Learn Why Research Matters

When Miranda suffered a spinal cord injury at a very young age, she and her family began learning about treatment options for people with injuries like hers. This led to learning about stem cells, and all the research being done on central nervous system issues using stem cells. What Miranda learned—along with the positive interactions she had with the health care workers who helped her—sparked her interest in the field of science.

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Questions to Consider:


Miranda’s respect for her physical therapists inspired her to pursue a career in science. What interactions have you had with people in science careers? What did they do and how have they influenced you?


Miranda’s injury prompted her to learn more about stem cells. What do you already know about stem cells? What do you want to know about how they work or what they can do?

“Science is everywhere around us, and we can come to appreciate that when we have people that dedicate their careers and their lives and their time to finding answers, [it makes] things better for the rest of the world and the people in it.”

— Miranda Ramirez-Vang

Meet The Scientists

Read about the scientists, then flip over the cards to learn more (and discover their secret superpower!) Who do you relate to the most?

There are 4 cards to read.

Randy Ashton
Randy Ashton
Principal Investigator

I am in charge of the scientific, academic, and commercial output of the lab. This means that I hire lab personnel, provide training for students, and help produce all scientific papers, presentations, patents, and grant proposals.

Carlos Marti-Figuero
Carlos Marti-Figueroa
Postdoctoral Researcher

I come up with ways to engineer the size and shape of 3D tissues derived from human stem cells, so that they will be similar to the brain. 🧠

Nisha Iyer
Nisha Iyer
Postdoctoral Researcher

I develop ways to direct human stem cells into every type of neuron in the brain and spinal cord… from the neurons that help you move to those that help you feel. 🖐️

Frank Seipel
Frank Seipel
Graduate Student

I work with stem cells to create models of the developing brain and spinal cord. 🧠

Icon depicting a line drawing of a human head with brain activity inside a hexagon shape

What’s your superpower?

Use this fillable PDF template to create your own scientist trading card.


Learn About the Lab

Ever wonder what scientists do every day, or what kind of equipment they use in their lab? Join middle schoolers from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and researchers from the Ashton Group to learn more about what research really looks like!

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Questions to Consider:


Using different mold shapes can encourage stem cells to grow into entirely different types of tissues. Can you think of common items that are made of the same material, but have different functions due to the different molds they were made in?


When you break down the word bioengineering into its parts, what does that tell you about what the lab does?

“Making really small contributions really leads up to—in the long run—people being able to make great discoveries and great medical advances that are going to help human lives.”

— Nisha Iyer

Do Science!

Scientist logging data in a log book
Icon illustration that suggests elements connected to a hub

Science Practices Activity

Lab researcher Carlos is creating molds for stems cells to grow in. Can you help him decide how he should make his mold?

Project Credits

Ryan Hendricks
Jessie Nixon

Ryan Hendricks

Ryan Hendricks

Beauxregard Neylon
Curtis Sorensen

Norman Yuson Cuaño
John Vieth
Tim Schneider

Brian Lorbiecki
Amanda Roslansky
Scott Stetson

Science Education Consultant
Travis Tangen, WID
Kevin Anderson, PhD, DPI

Educator Guide and Activities
Mia Forslund
Travis Tangen
Christina Swords
Millie Rolander
Anika Gupta
Kaitlin Edwards

Thanks to our participating scientists
Randy Ashton, PhD
Carlos Marti-Figueroa, PhD
Nisha Iyer, PhD
Frank Seipel

Project Partner
Morgridge Institute for Research
Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation
Wisconsin Institute for Discovery
Ashton Group—Stem Cell Bioprocessing and Regenerative Biomaterials Laboratory

Executive Producer
Megan Monday

Director of Education
Alyssa Tsagong

Director of Television
Jon Miskowski

Educator Advisors

Michelle Howe
Lodi Middle School
Lodi, WI

Diane Reynolds
Butler Middle School
Waukesha, WI

Jessica Buckley
Wedgewood Middle School
Milwaukee, WI

Funding Provided By

Timothy William Trout Education Fund
a gift of Monroe and Sandra Trout

Focus Fund for Education

Friends of PBS Wisconsin