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Office of News and Information
Johns Hopkins University / 3400 N. Charles Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21218-2692
Phone: (410) 516-7160 / Fax (410) 516-5251

April 21, 1997
CONTACT: Emil Venere

Biology Undergrads Use Theater to Teach Elementary School Kids

Story: Three premed students at Johns Hopkins are using a creative approach to teach biology to elementary school students: they have written a play that depicts immune system cells as crusading superheroes and an invading flu virus as an evil villain.

When: The play will be performed for third and fourth graders at about 1:30 p.m. on Monday, April 28.

Where: Barclay School, a school for pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade, at 2900 Barclay St. in Baltimore.

Who: The play was conceived and written by Natalie Shilo, Suzanne Jiloca and Nipa Gandhi, all biology undergraduates at Johns Hopkins. Shilo and Jiloca can be reached at (410) 467-0905; Gandhi can be reached at (410) 889-2962. The contact at Barclay School is David Clapp, (410) 396-6387. Call late in the week to get a more specific curtain time.

Background: The three students formed a biological theater club called "Germbusters" to produce plays for elementary school children. The goal is to show children that biology can be fun and exciting. The script, a general introduction to the immune system, is "sort of a Ghostbusters/Power Rangers action adventure," says Shilo. "We want to energize the audience." They even have a theme song, based on the Ghostbusters music.

Germbusters has about 25 members, undergraduates with a wide range of majors. Shilo will play the role of General Germ, who leads the pack of invading flu germs locked in battle with heroic white blood cells inside the body of an unsuspecting child.

The child catches the flu by drinking water from the same bottle as a friend who is infected with the virus. Soon the audience is taken inside the child's body and introduced to a variety of white-blood cells called B-Cells, T-Cells and macrophages.

By depicting the immune system cells as superheroes, the writers are striving to grab their young audience's attention. The infection fighters rally in the lymph nodes, or "White Blood Cell Headquarters," where Captain White Blood Cell leads the charge against the evil germs. "They have big capes, and they can use those capes to engulf these germs," Gandhi said.

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