GSBS Outreach Council hosts community Science Night (w/ photo gallery)

February 26, 2014

Tracey Barnett

GSBS student Hima Vangapandu explains how wounds heal on the human body to visitors during Science Night on February 15. Vangapandu is affiliated with the Experimental Therapeutics Program at GSBS. More photos from the event can be seen here.       

Making ice cream and monster masks may not be textbook ways of teaching scientific concepts, but those were just some of the techniques used by GSBS Outreach Council members to ignite curiosity in children (and parents) at the organization’s Science Night held on February 15 at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center’s South Campus Building II Ballroom.

More than 300 visitors, including 100 children from neighboring Houston-area schools, such as Condit Elementary, as well as families of UTHealth and MD Anderson faculty members, attended the event organized by the Council.

“One of the members of Outreach Council suggested a night where the public can easily interact with faculty and students of GSBS. We thought this was a great idea and it developed further through many discussions within the Council,” said Heather Turner, GSBS student and Outreach Program coordinator.   

“We had a lot of fun brainstorming ideas for this event because ultimately we wanted GSBS faculty and students to share not only their expertise but also their enthusiasm and passion for science, and hopefully demonstrate to young kids how fun science can be and inspire them to embrace their natural curiosity,” added GSBS student and Outreach Program Coordinator Amanda Herrmann.”

Eight out of 13 GSBS programs and more than 50 volunteers participated in the event. Each table developed a concept or task that taught children about their specific field of study:

Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Program displayed plated cells from different organs in the body and talked about their functions;

Cancer Biology Program discussed different environmental factors that can increase cancer risks (sun exposure, smoking, etc.) and showed some cancer cells under a microscope;

Experimental Therapeutics Program used a Play-Doh model of wound healing to discuss the importance of different kinds of cells needed in the healing process;    

Genes and Development Program built 3D replicas of flies out of paper using specific mutations which they could identify on a chart. The group also had a microscope with slides of fly wings;

Human and Molecular Genetics Program had a table with supplies to make DNA strands out of pipe cleaners. They also showed visitors how to use genetics to create their own monster masks;

Immunology Program showed videos of immune cells and vaccination;

Neuroscience Program’s table compared plastic brains from different animals, had a sheep brain dissection, and had supplies to let children construct and color paper brain hats;

Medical Physics Program displayed and explained the use linear accelerator parts as well as showed CT scans of toys (a Barbie doll). They also had a slideshow of radiation research and treatments.

First-year students not affiliated with a program also had a table at the event. There they showed children how to make ice cream using ice and salt.

Before each child made their way to the ballroom, they were given a passport. After visiting a program’s table and learning about a particular scientific field, each child would receive a sticker verifying their participation at that table. Once they made their way through the room, the children were asked to turn in their passports, and were declared scientists.

 “To see a crowd come to our event was extremely rewarding. The Council and GSBS administration put in so much work and we were all very excited in preparation for the event. We were all just praying that people came, and they did! I felt very, very proud of what we were able to achieve through our shared enthusiasm and hard work,” said Turner.

“I really enjoyed Science Night.  Once again our students stepped up and organized a great event that clearly had a significant impact on our local community,” said GSBS Dean Michael Blackburn, Ph.D., who brought his own children to the event.  “I spoke with several of the children and parents who attended and they were super excited about the fun science they were seeing.  You never know what might catch the attention of a young mind and our students did a great job of reaching out to inspire future scientist.”

“We were extremely impressed with the turnout! It was so nice to see so many bright eyes and interested young minds,” said Outreach Program Coordinator Nick Parchim “I, personally, was pleasantly surprised that so many parents and children value science enough to join us in an afternoon of learning.”

This event was such a great and fulfilling experience for me, added Outreach council member Angie Torres-Adorno. “I realized how motivational it can be for children to have the opportunity to interact and learn from scientists, and continue growing their interest toward sciences!”

The Outreach Council, led by GSBS students Turner, Herrmann, Parchim and Dennis Ruder, hope to hold another Science Night next year in the spring of 2015. For more information about the Council, please email or visit the GSBS Outreach Facebook page.

Photos from the event can be viewed here.