Forging New Frontiers
Approximately 700 young scientists spent the day at the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus where they learned about epidemiology as they tracked a zombie virus, used DNA to figure out who stole Fluffy’s cat food and calculated the cost of bringing a drug to market by counting real beans.
The activities were part of the sixth annual Frontiers in Science and Medicine Day at the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center. The collaborative event brings together Johns Hopkins and other organizations in the neighborhood to introduce Montgomery County Public Schools seventh-graders to careers in science and medicine. This year, students from Earle B. Wood and Roberto W. Clemente middle schools participated. (photo gallery)
“At Johns Hopkins University, we believe in exposing students to science and medicine at a young age,” said Leslie Ford Weber, director of campus, government and community affairs for Johns Hopkins in Montgomery County. “Frontiers in Science and Medicine Day does exactly that. During Frontiers, seventh-graders get to experience science in a different way than they do in the classroom. All of the lessons are hands on. They use real science equipment, such as microscopes and pipettes, and visit real science labs. They see the settings where medical and scientific professionals work every day.” (videos)
Students spent part of the day at Johns Hopkins, where they participated in hands-on science and medicine activities run by local science research organizations, museums and colleges. They spent the other part of the day visiting a local laboratory or hospital so they could experience what doctors and scientists do each day.
Kris Obom, director of Advanced Academic Programs’ Center for Biotechnology Education, and Pat Cummings, Program Director for the Master of Science in Biotechnology, ran two lab tours on campus.
In one, students in the wet lab learned how DNA is used in forensics as they conducted experiments with DNA to help identify who ate the cat food in a mock scenario. In the other, students learned about epidemiology and infectious diseases as they tracked the spread of a zombie virus at a mock carnival. Biotechnology graduate students volunteered their time to helping the younger students during Frontiers.
The Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute, located at the Johns Hopkins Montgomery County Campus, welcomed students to their lab to learn about the brain and Alzheimer’s disease.
Other students went off campus for their lab tours. At Sanaria, students learned about malaria and mosquitos. At the National Center for the Advancing of Translational Sciences, students saw the laboratory’s experimental screening robot in action. Other students visited the Institute for Bioscience & Biotechnology Research; J. Craig Venter Institute; Shady Grove Adventist Hospital; University of Maryland School of Nursing; and University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.
“We learned how pharmacies make medicine and how to put medicine into capsules,” said Redeat Sileshi, a seventh-grade student at Wood Middle School. “I didn’t know about pharmacies. Now I do. I got to see what you do if you are a pharmacist or scientist on a daily basis.” Redeat said she wants to be a chemist. She said she enjoyed Frontiers because the day was more interactive than the typical school day.
Tanya Jha, a seventh-grade student at Clemente Middle School, said she enjoyed participating in the zombie virus outbreak exercise. After the exercise, students fabricated their own viruses out of pipe cleaners and beads.
“I learned viruses can be passed on from animals, and there are suits that help protect you from viruses with face masks and goggles,” Tanya said.
Amy Gensemer, supervisor, K-12 Science, Technology and Engineering at Montgomery County Public Schools, said Frontiers fits in nicely with the seventh-grade science curriculum. Later in the school year, students will learn about DNA extraction. During Frontiers, students had the opportunity to extract DNA from strawberries.
Gensemer said students benefit from seeing biotechnology professionals and graduate students using similar techniques as they will be using in the classroom.
“Johns Hopkins is crucial to what we do with STEM in the county,” Gensemer said. "They provide a lot of support, K-12, for our students."
Added Weber: “We hope that the science, math and medicine lessons they learn today can be the foundation for their future education and careers.”