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Pursuing New Frontiers

Students tour science lab

Wearing white lab coats and blue lab gloves, nearly 500 budding scientists explored career opportunities during the 8th annual Frontiers in Science & Medicine Day at the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center.

Students spent part of the day at Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus, where they participated in hands-on science and medicine activities. 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. (photo gallery)

Seventh graders from Martin Luther King Jr. and Montgomery Village middle schools participated in Frontiers this year. The students toured science companies in the community, including NeuroDiagnostics, MedImmune, Sanaria, BioReliance and the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research. Students also toured the pediatric emergency department at Adventist Healthcare Shady Grove Medical Center, epidemiology and forensics labs at Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus, the pharmacy and nursing schools at the University of Maryland, and the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

The collaborative event is a way to introduce Montgomery County Public Schools seventh graders to careers in science and medicine. Montgomery County has more than 300 biotech companies and 10,000 highly educated biotech workers, according to the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation.  Yet many people, and especially middle-schoolers, are unaware of the work that goes on in these buildings.

The Johns Hopkins University Center for Biotechnology Education 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 another, students learned about epidemiology and infectious diseases as they tracked the spread of a zombie virus at a mock carnival.

Biotech students pursuing master’s degrees also ran several hands-on activities, including an owl pellet examination exercise and a demonstration that illustrates the high cost of bringing pharmaceuticals to market.

Dina Link is the pre-K-12 Science, Technology and Engineering content specialist for Montgomery County Public Schools. She said she hopes Frontiers gives students a vision of what they can be when they grow up. She expects Frontiers to give students the motivation and persistence to pursue those possibilities.

“Any student will benefit by seeing the science they learn in the classroom in a real-life setting,” Link said. “It gives them motivation, a focus, a dream of what can be done.”

Elaine Chang-Baxter, MCPS director of partnerships, was impressed that so many local organizations are involved in Frontiers.

“That we have this opportunity at Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus is amazing,” she said. “We’re incredibly appreciative. We really feel that the kids are walking away with new understandings of scientific and medical fields. We hope some of them will want to pursue a career in one of these areas down the line.”

Among the activities featured at Frontiers:

  • Adventist Healthcare Shady Grove Medical Center showed students how medical professionals use modern technology to save lives.
  • BioReliance showed students labs that test and manufacture medicine.
  • The Institute for Bioscience & Biotechnology Research showed students how researchers use advanced technologies to learn what molecules do in living systems.
  • MedImmune took students on lab tours.
  • MDBio showed students how to use pipettes.
  • Montgomery College showed students how to make slime.
  • NCATS showed students the lab’s experimental screening robot.
  • NeuroDiagnostics, which focuses on Alzheimer’s disease research, let students look at a brain specimen.
  • Rockville Science Center had students explore robotics, geology and archaeology.
  • Sanaria showed students mosquitoes in different developmental stages.
  • Salisbury University taught students about intubation and CPR.
  • University of Maryland School of Nursing let students participate in a simulation experience.
  • University of Maryland School of Pharmacy toured a medication order processing area.

In the hands-on portion of the event at JHU, students were able to pipette colored liquid, explore robotics, and learn about imaging technology and respiratory therapy.

“I experienced new things like making slime and seeing what the heart actually looks like,” said David Valladares, 13, of Montgomery Village Middle School. “It’s actually pretty cool. We actually experienced what doctors use and what scientists do. It makes me feel like how I would feel if I were to be a scientist.”

CATEGORY: Academics, K-12 Outreach, In The Community