On Saturday, April 6th, over 150 children and adults turned out for the very first Science Day at Dartmouth. F. Jon Kull, dean of Graduate Studies, dubbed Science Day, organized by Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (GWISE), a “great success.”
Anna Prescott and Aarathi Prasaad, PhD candidates in Psychological and Brain Sciences (PBS) and Computer Science respectively, organized the event with help from a small army of volunteers from across Graduate Studies. The aim of the event was to excite children about the sciences and being a scientist. Graduate students, being highly motivated scientists, were up to the challenge.
Another motivation behind Science Day was to encourage female participation in the sciences. Dartmouth graduate students have a reputation of challenging the “science is for boys” stereotype. Science Day was no exception. “Over 50% of women led activities or gave demonstrations,” says Prescott. Whilst men were not discouraged, the high interest of female scientists in the event showed young people that science is gender neutral.
GWISE set up 20 stations from the departments or programs in Earth Sciences, Environmental Studies, Physics and Astronomy, Mathematics, PBS, Computer Science, Neurology and Biological science departments. Activities gave the young people an introduction to each discipline. For example, representatives from the Department of Physics and Astronomy illustrated centrifugal forces with a bike wheel and a rotating chair.
PBS had a particularly popular station. Rachel Pizzie, a PhD candidate in the department, gave participating students a “lie detector test.” She gauged excitement by measuring how well skin conducts electricity. Our hands sweat more when we are surprised or shocked, sweaty hands conduct electricity better. Pizzie placed sensors on volunteers’ hands to measure increases or decreases of sweat. From this she could determine her volunteers’ excitement to questions, much like a polygraph test. The audience’s excitement level did not need such a test.
Many parents noted that they were unable to get to each station, not because there were too many stations, or that the stations were too far apart, but because their children were so engaged that they lingered at each demonstration and activity.
The day’s success was facilitated by the dedicated efforts of graduate students. One parent remarked: “the students were great at explaining their research to the kids, and they had an infectious enthusiasm for research.”
Over 50 graduate students took five or six hours out of their weekend to help. They set up demonstrations, they showed the visitors around the college and they dropped pizza off to their hungry colleagues. Furthermore, GWISE took sole responsibility for organizing and funding the event.
Prescott remarked on the success of the day “there’s just something special about visiting the labs and campus buildings. We really wanted to show kids what careers in science look like.” She continued, “Meeting with enthusiastic kids to tell them about what we study, why it’s cool, why it’s important, and why we love it is a great way to reinvigorate ourselves!”
GWISE is going to build on the success of Science Day 2013, to make Science Day 2014 reach out to even more children and young people.
“Encouraging others to get involved in science is one of the most rewarding experiences a young scientist can have,” says Prescott.
by Dan Durcan