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Beckman’s Owl Patrol takes flight

The Owl Patrol is Beckman's new outreach committee, named after an organization created by Arnold O. Beckman in 1913.
Published on June 6, 2024

A group of Girl Scouts from Central Illinois earned an exclusive new badge from the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

This spring, the Beckman Institute hosted the scouts for scientific demonstrations and a building tour. One of Girl Scouts' key pillars is STEM, so the visitors were ready to learn about the science, research and history at Beckman. They explored the Arnold O. Beckman Exhibit and Illinois MRI Exhibit and asked questions about the rich history of the Beckman Institute and the past, present and future of MRI technology.

The Girl Scouts interacted with Girl Scout using clamp to test mechanophore. Credit: Lily Dokhanchi, Beckman Institute Communications Office. materials called mechanophores, which change color under different mechanical forces (like stretching, hammering or being placed in a clamp). These demonstrations showed how density, elasticity and pressure can impact a material’s color and why these transformations can be either permanent or temporary.

Girl Scout using hammer to test mechanophore. Credit: Emily Toledo, Beckman Institute Communications Office.

After these demonstrations, the scouts asked questions and toured  Beckman Institute Girl Scout badge, designed by Lindy Carlisle. Credit: Deana McDonagh. the Beckman Institute, concluding by taking in the fifth-floor view of campus from the Beckman Tower. At the end of their visit, each guest earned a Beckman badge.

This is not the first time that the Beckman Institute has put a unique spin on education. The organizers of this event are members of the Owl Patrol, Beckman’s outreach committee. In the 2023-2024 academic year, the committee hosted events with the Boys and Girls Club and local schools.

Led by Beckman outreach specialist Lexie Kesler, the Owl Patrol embodies Beckman’s five outreach principles: interdisciplinary work across subjects, trust-building, visibility, literacy and inclusivity.

“The outreach principles and Owl Patrol were created to focus the outreach efforts of the institute as a whole. Beckman was built to bring people together and the Owl Patrol gives us a platform to do that,” Kesler said.

“The Owl Patrol is a group of individuals who realize that they can have a greater impact on the community in which they live if they work together. Working together is what sets us apart, right? Well, the Owl Patrol is just an extension of that.”

The committee is named in homage to a 13-year-old Arnold O. Beckman. An inventor and innovator from the start, he created an unofficial Boy Scout troop — the original Owl Patrol — in his hometown of Cullom, Illinois.

In their version of the Owl Patrol, the boys copied the nighttime behaviors of owls and utilized their hooting skills to signal when it was time to sneak out. During their unsupervised explorations, young Arnold Beckman was affectionately nicknamed “Hoot."

Today, the Owl Patrol lives on, although its activities are carried out by the new outreach group and typically take place during the daytime.

In addition to working with the Girl Scouts of Central Illinois on mechanophores, the Doll-sized MRI scanner. Credit: Beckman Institute Communications Office. Owl Patrol has created all sorts of innovative projects for all ages. A recent project is the doll-sized MRI scanner, which Kesler uses to teach 3-year-olds about MRI technology. Kesler also uses fruit flashcards of MRI images to allow young children to play a matching game to test their ability to imagine what different kinds of fruit would look like from the inside.

Flashcard depicting an MRI scan of a green pepper. Credit: Beckman Institute Communications Office. Kesler believes that most STEM learning can be adapted for even the youngest researchers and learners and is using the Owl Patrol to do this. The committee is currently 54 members strong, including staff, students and faculty members.

Deana McDonagh, an empathic design research strategist and a professor in the School of Art and Design, played an important role in the Girl Scout event. Her space, the (dis)ability Design Studio, was a key stop during the tour.

“I have opened up my research space to the visiting children so that they can experience a different kind of research space: one that welcomes and celebrates diverse abilities,” McDonagh said.

As a pivotal member of the Owl Patrol, McDonagh and her (dis)ability Design Studio allowed the scouts to learn about accessibility, design and how to bring these two concepts together. Her role on the Owl Patrol highlights the importance of faculty dedicating time to outreach and sharing more about the research conducted at Beckman.

The Owl Patrol hosts events often, exploring many different areas of STEM, research and Beckman. Outreach events allow everybody from young children to adults to see into the creative world of the Beckman Institute, something that may not be possible without Kesler, Arnold O. Beckman’s adventurous spirit and the Owl Patrol committee.

Editor's note:

To learn more about the Owl Patrol and get involved in Beckman outreach, contact Lexie Kesler at

Are you a community member interested in partnering with Beckman for your organization? Get connected with our team.

In this article

  • Lexie Kesler
    Lexie Kesler's directory photo.
  • Deana C. McDonagh
    Deana C. McDonagh's directory photo.

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