Wesleyan Faculty Teach Local Girls about Science

Olivia DrakeAugust 5, 20165min
Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, shows Girls in Science Summer Camp participant Sophie how to filter strawberry DNA on Aug. 2.  (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Wesleyan’s Green Street Teaching and Learning Center hosted the 2016 Girls in Science Summer Camp for 4th, 5th, and 6th grade girls Aug. 1-5. Campers were exposed to a variety of careers in science and learned how to use scientific tools like lab notebooks, pipets, and microscopes.

Four female Wesleyan faculty—Ishita Mukerji, the Fisk Professor of Natural Science, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry; Candice Etson, assistant professor of physics; Erika Taylor, associate professor of chemistry, associate professor of environmental studies; and Michelle Personick, assistant professor of chemistry—led a series of hands-on experiments with the campers. Sara MacSorley, director of the GSTLC, coordinated the activities.

Mukerji taught the campers about DNA by extracting DNA from strawberries. Students also built a large DNA model and created a secret message using DNA code.

Etson taught the campers about light, color, energy, light refraction, lenses and prisms, and electronics. The girls built their own electric motors, studied solar power, and learned the difference between incandescent and LED light bulbs.

Taylor and graduate student Mackenzie Schlosser taught the campers about parts of a cell, germs, and good and bad bacteria, and had campers test various areas of the Green Street Teaching & Learning Center for bacteria.

Personick taught viscosity by racing different fluids, such as chocolate sauce, corn oil, ketchup, soap, and glue, to see which flows best. The campers also learned about the different phases of matter.

“The girls were very surprised to see that ketchup flows slower than glue, and we talked about non-Newtonian fluids to explain that observation,” Personick said.

Personick also had the campers make bouncy balls by cross-linking a polymer (glue) with Borax; tested the properties (magnetism, conductivity, density, flexibility) of different metals to learn about what properties metals have in common and which properties depend on the shape/size of the piece of metal; and created silver nanoparticles in a rainbow of colors and then used silver and gold nanoparticles to make stained glass. On Aug. 5, the campers used what they learned about viscosity to make bubbles.

Students also made and ate liquid nitrogen ice cream to study phase changes in cooking, and talked about how cooking is science in the kitchen.

The Girls in Science Camp is supported by the Petit Family Foundation.

Photos of the Girls in Science Camp are below: