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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University July 21, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 40
Igniting Interest in the Sciences

Daniel Leahy, professor in SoM's Department of Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry, demonstrates the characteristic colors of various elements when exposed to flame.
Photo by Kenneth Royster

Young Baltimore students get a hands-on week in School of Medicine labs

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Science can be fun, and understandable. To demonstrate, Johns Hopkins offered 20 fourth- and fifth-graders a weeklong experience that involved such activities as building a baking soda volcano and extracting DNA from cheek cells.

The inaugural Fun with Science Summer Camp gave students from seven East Baltimore elementary schools a hands-on immersion in basic science through interaction with nearly two dozen School of Medicine faculty and staff. Two officers from the Maryland State Police's Forensics Division also participated.

The camp, held in late June, is part of an initiative between Johns Hopkins Medicine and the Baltimore City Public School System to promote science education in hopes of inspiring area students to pursue careers in science and medicine.

During the program, the participants learned about crystals, microscopes, DNA and chemical reactions. Many of the demonstrations and activities involved a healthy dose of fun. The students, for example, made ice cream, fashioned a "molecule" out of sticks and looked at a dollar bill under the microscope — and were quizzed daily to reinforce their learning. For the DNA extraction activity, the participants had the rare pleasure of being told by an instructor to spit in class. They rinsed salt water in their mouths and then spit it back into a cup, before pouring a portion of the contents into a test tube. The students then carefully dripped rubbing alcohol into the tube and watched their DNA float into the alcohol layer on top.

They spent the majority of time working in labs at the School of Medicine's Preclinical Teaching Building. The camp also included a field trip to the Maryland Science Center and a closing ceremony held in Mountcastle Auditorium.

The participating schools were Fort Worthington Elementary, Dr. Rayner Browne Elementary, Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary, William A. Paca Elementary, Harford Heights Intermediate and Tench Tilghman Elementary.

The camp is part of the Johns Hopkins Community Science Education Program, which also includes a Community Science Day and Community Science Fair. The program is a collaborative effort by the Johns Hopkins Health System Office of Community Services and the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences to interest young people in science.

The Community Science days, which started in 2001, offer hands-on workshops at the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences and Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Research Building for fourth- and fifth-graders from participating schools. The success of the workshops, offered twice a year, inspired the creation of the summer camp, said Michael Jenkins, the program's administrator.

"Hopefully, the science camp will increase student interest and knowledge in science education at an early age," Jenkins said.

Johns Hopkins held its first Community Science Fair in May. East Baltimore elementary schools were invited to submit up to three student-created projects that demonstrate use of the scientific method. The entries were presented in poster format at the School of Medicine in front of judges and guests, and the winning school presented to senior leadership at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Jenkins said the plan is to make the summer science camp an annual event and possibly expand it in subsequent years.

"Initially, our intentions are to offer the camp to surrounding East Baltimore elementary schools only," he said. "However, depending on community interest and funding, it is possible that the camp will be offered to students from other neighboring schools in the future."


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