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Environmental Factor, September 2012

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NIEHS volunteers return to summer science camp in Durham

By Eddy Ball

Mwenda Kudumu and SEE summer camp attendees

Kudumu, second from left, joined her children at the camp sign, during the morning registration. (Photo courtesy of Willis Page)

Shawn Jeter

NIEHS volunteer Shawn Jeter checked her email and selected the music for the camp’s warm-up exercises. Along with teaching science, SEE traditionally devotes some time to health and fitness, with physical activities and nutritious snacks. (Photo courtesy of Willis Page)

The innovative Science and Everyday Experiences (SEE) summer camp held its seventh annual session June 30 at the Durham (N.C.) Alumnae Delta House, with scientific leadership by volunteers from NIEHS (see text box). The theme for this year’s camp, which attracted more than 40 children from grades four through nine, was “African-American Contributions to Science.”

Coordinated by Durham SEE chair Sharon Beard, an NIEHS program manager, this year’s camp, like its predecessors, developed its theme through hands-on experiments that illustrated the accomplishments of African-American scientists Charles Drew, M.D., Lewis Latimer, and Benjamin Bradley as they related to everyday experiences. “For the first time at the SEE summer science camp, all the people who planned and developed the activities were scientists and staff from NIEHS,” Beard noted with pride.

According to Beard, focusing on African-American scientists offered students the added motivation of learning about role models as they learned about science. “They needed to see the different types of people who’ve been an important part of scientific progress, to see what they’d done and how they did it,” she said.

During the half-day camp, students rotated through three instructional modules, as their parents met with Beard and co-presenter Joan Packenham, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Human Research Compliance. Packenham and Beard explored resources available to parents and home-based strategies for helping develop their children’s interest in careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The steam engine — a stolen invention

Led by NIEHS biologist Agnes Janoshazi, Ph.D., the steam engine module included a brief overview and history of the life of a slave, Benjamin Bradley, who never received the patent for the invention because it was given to his owner. Janoshazi and her team explained the function and design of the steam engine and demonstrated how to build one.

Students then gathered around a wading pool in the classroom to race their own steamboats with flags and mirrors on the top. Constructed on an aluminum pan platform and powered by water-filled copper coils heated by burning alcohol that produced the steam to propel them, the boats sped around the pool, much to the obvious delight of their young builders.

Let there be light — but first, there needs to be a filament

Every school child knows that Thomas Edison is acknowledged as the father of electric lighting, and some may recall that finding the right material was a major obstacle to everyday use of the light bulb. But few realize that it took the insight of a competitor’s draftsman, the son of a freed slave, and, later, the only African-American member of the Edison Pioneers, Lewis Latimer, to make it practical for widespread use.

Designed and led by NIEHS staff scientist Elena Braithwaite, Ph.D., the light bulb experiment used a battery, alligator clips, a pie pan, thin metal wire, and a mason jar to demonstrate how light bulbs work. Students tried different configurations of the thin wire — wires made from different types of metal and with different thicknesses — and recorded how long and how brightly each version of the filament glowed.

Blood banks — the gift of life

Moving into the 20th century, NIEHS postdoctoral fellow Danielle Watt, Ph.D., led students in a module focusing on Drew. Drew built on his research to develop the blood bank system for soldiers fighting in World War II, establishing protocols for safely and effectively collecting, testing, storing, and transporting large quantities of blood plasma for distribution in Great Britain. Ironically, his death from an automobile accident in 1950 might have been prevented if he had had access to his own invention at the Burlington, N.C. hospital where he was treated.

In the experiment, Watt led students in an edible demonstration of the components of blood using red hot candy, representing red blood cells; marshmallows, standing in for white blood cells; coconut, to signify platelets; and corn syrup, as plasma. The students also learned the differences in clumping and coagulation of noncompatible blood types, using household materials that included vinegar, floor polish, water, and food coloring.

Students cheering on steam boat race

Students gathered around the pool to cheer their entries in the steam boat race. “The kids really, really, really enjoyed the steam engine and were hyped up throughout the activity,” Beard said. (Photo courtesy of Willis Page)

Danielle Watt, Ph.D. and Mercedes Arana, Ph.D. help students with experiments

Watt, standing center, and Arana, standing right, helped their young charges mix their blood samples, to see for themselves the differences in compatibility of different blood types. One parent, in red center, observed during the activities. (Photo courtesy of Willis Page)

Reke Janoshazi, Agnes Janoshazi, Ph.D., and Frank Boellman, Ph.D.

There was an emphasis on movement and hands-on activities, and even when instruction took on the flavor of a lecture format, it was very informal. Shown above, left to right, Reke Janoshazi and Agnes Janoshazi wait their turn, as Boellman explains the steamboat experiment. (Photo courtesy of Willis Page)

Copper coils in student's steamboats

Except for their copper coils, the steamboats were constructed of materials found in most homes, such as light aluminum pans, straws, and binder clips. NIEHS facility staff helped Janoshazi bend the copper pipe to prevent it from crimping. (Photo courtesy of Willis Page)

Joan Packenham, Ph.D., helps students with experiments

Once students connected the batteries, wires, and filaments, their bulbs sprang to life in the darkened room. Packenham, center, worked with Braithwaite, Holloway, Kudumu, and Charles, helping the students perform the experiment. (Photo courtesy of Willis Page)

Poster highlighting Patricia Bath, M.D., an innovator of African-American scientific cultural heritage

Posters on the walls of Durham Alumnae Delta House highlighted innovators who make up the texture of African-American scientific cultural heritage, including Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Jackson, Ph.D.; hair products entrepreneur Madam C. J. Walker, the first African-American self-made millionaire; and ophthalmologist Patricia Bath, M.D. (Photo courtesy of Willis Page)

NIEHS instructional volunteers

NIEHS instructional volunteers gathered at the end of camp. Shown, left to right, Holloway, Braithwaite, Reke Janoshazi, Agnes Janoshazi, Packenham, Arana, Kudumu, Charles, Watt, and Beard. Not shown are Jeter and Gatling. (Photo courtesy of Willis Page)

The SEE experience — the teachers’ perspective

Several veterans of SEE and other outreach programs spoke about the success of the summer camp.

  • Agnes Janoshazi, who has almost 20 years of experience teaching popular science in Europe, said she was delighted when Packenham approached her this April about being a part of the SEE teaching staff. “I quite enthusiastically support the SEE camp program, because I think it is a beautifully organized program,” she wrote, “and I feel lucky to have been a part of it this summer.” Also working on the steamboat module team were Reke Janoshazi; Delta volunteer Lillian Horne, M.D., and the husband of NIEHS biologist Mercedes Arana, Ph.D., chemist Frank Boellman, Ph.D.
  • SEE veteran Braithwaite praised fellow teachers and colleagues Keith Holloway; postdoctoral fellow Georgette Charles, Ph.D.; Mwenda Kudumu; Antonio Gatling; and Packenham. Braithwaite said the light bulb team enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm of the students. “We were also inspired by the highly intelligent students that attended the camp. They knew several aspects of African-American history and were very excited to expand their knowledge,” she said. “We can’t wait to see what great things are in store for these students.”
  • Now in her fourth year at the camp, Watt said she was gratified by the way students changed their attitudes toward science when they saw its everyday applications in their lives. “I love seeing the students getting excited about science, especially when they say that they did not like science. When they learned about blood types, many were eager to ask their parents about their blood type and share the information they learned.”
  • One of Watt’s partners in the blood experiments, along with Raven Herndon, was Arana, who has been a part of several outreach activities, including the Citizen Schools program and the NIH Summer Internship Program. “The children were attentive and eager to participate,” Arana observed. “Participants were very involved during the hands-on activities in asking and answering questions. They learned and we learned — a reciprocal exchange and learning experience for all.”

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