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Igniting Passion for Science

Girls Inc. middle schoolers from Schenectady and Albany will learn about science through hands-on experiments, like this Coriolus machine, which shows the effect of Earth's rotation.  

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 5, 2018) – Matthew Vaughan, a fifth year doctoral student in the Atmospheric Science program, is looking forward to showing a group of middle schoolers how exciting it is to be a scientist.

Some 40 girls from Schenectady and Albany will come to the UAlbany campus each week day from July 9 through Aug.1 as part of the four-week Girls Inc. EUREKA! Program. Most are entering eighth grade in the fall.

The College of Arts and Sciences is hosting the program for the first time this year. Four departments, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, Biological Sciences, Chemistry and Physics, will each offer a hands-on instructional program for one of the four weeks.

“Our CAS faculty will be teaching the academic courses and help the girls with their final projects,” said CAS Dean Edelgard Wulfert. “The main purpose is to interest the girls in STEM fields and to expose them to hands-on experiences.”

“We are excited to offer this summer camp in science immersion to our students,” said Girls Inc. Executive Director Ashley Jeffrey Bouck. “Middle school is a critical age for encouraging girls to succeed in science, and mastery of science skills offers more career choices for them in the future.”

Vaughan, of Dalton, Mass., has four days of fun learning experiences lined up. He works with Professor Chris Thorncroft, who chairs the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences.

When Vaughan was growing up, he wanted to be a pilot, so the science of how the air worked and flight fascinated him. “I went to an aviation-specific college and absolutely fell in love with meteorology after my first weather class. I soon realized that while flying was neat, I really had a passion for the weather,” he said.

Vaughan hopes to impart that same passion for the weather to the young teens attending the summer camp.

“Far too often, students only encounter science through a lecture-type classroom setting and are overwhelmed with the amount of memorization of facts required. By showing students how the atmosphere works through our hands-on demonstrations and exercises, we allow their own curiosity to drive the learning process,” he said.

Week One: Atmospheric Science

Monday, July 9: Scientist Day. A Coriolis machine, set up in the grass between the Earth Science Building and State Quad, will show the effect of Earth’s rotation. It is similar to a playground flywheel. In another demonstration, a rotating tank will depict how the Earth’s rotation affects storm evolution. And later, the girls will conduct experiments showing the properties of air and radiation.

Tuesday, July 10: Indian Ladder. Students will see the New York State Mesonet weather station there.

Wednesday, July 11: Atmospheric Sciences Research Center. Students visit the University’s renowned ASRC to learn about climate impacts on ecosystems, clean energy, astronomy and artificial intelligence machine learning.

Thursday, July 12: Media and Forecasting Day. Craig Gold of CBS 6 will visit to talk about what it’s like to be an on-air meteorologist. The girls will make their own weathercasts. Several National Weather Service meteorologists will also give a hydrology demonstration. In addition, there will be a forecasting challenge.

Week Two: Biology

The students enrolled in “Journey to DNA Discovery” summer camp will use some of the same science and technology employed by today’s popular 23andMe and AncestryDNA kits. They will isolate DNA from cheek cells and run PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) using primers to specific eye color regions. Each student will then analyze her samples using a genetic analyzer and learn how to interpret the results and predict eye color.

Week Three: Chemistry

On July 23, there will be liquid nitrogen and “elephant trunk” demos in the morning. The following day, students will work on fingerprints and ransom note analysis. On Wednesday the students will learn about electrochemistry, and on Thursday, they will work on their posters and make some slime to take home.

Week Four: Physics

July 30-Aug. 1, the students will explore electrical circuits in a fun context using “squishy circuits” made from Play-Doh. “Not many people know that Play-Doh can conduct electricity due to its high salt content,” said Associate Professor and Department Chair Keith Earle. “When you supplement the conducting dough with a non-conducting dough made with sugar, rather than salt, you can build up a number of different kinds of circuit elements. Add a battery source and some light emitting diodes (LEDs) and you can learn an amazing amount of fundamental physics. We can then use these building blocks to talk about a model of signal propagation in nerve cells, for example.”

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