Growing up, I always knew I wanted to work in science. Maybe I’d synthesize a new biodegradable plastic. Or maybe I’d unlock the secrets behind Alzheimer’s disease. Maybe I’d teach science at a university or write about amazing discoveries. Kids often dream of pursuing unlikely professions, like acting in Hollywood or playing major league baseball. For me, working in science was just as unrealistic: I had never met a scientist, never set foot in a lab. I had no idea what research was.
Today, scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory are working with the community to make sure that kids are exposed to research at a young age. Through numerous outreach programs, our researchers are helping to educate young children about basic science. Students have the opportunity to meet scientists, visit labs, and learn that these are real people and with real careers.
Over the last few months, there have been some great examples of science outreach. Early in March, Associate Professor Zach Lippman and Assistant Professor Mike Schatz hosted seven students from PS/IS 499 in Flushing, Queens. The day was sponsored through generous funding from the National Science Foundation and aimed to teach kids about how scientists study plants and work to improve our crops. The group of 3rd and 4th graders was able to do hands-on experiments in the lab, visit CSHL’s world-class sequencing facility, and learn about how scientists read the letters of a genome.
“Our goal was to get kids thinking about plant science, get them excited,” says Lippman. “This type of science, using genetics and genomics, can be intimidating, but the tailored activities gave students the opportunity to understand on a small scale what we are doing to optimize plant yields. These experiences have tremendous value – there is no substitute for being in a lab and doing science.” You can check out some of the highlights from the day in the short video below.
CSHL neuroscientists are also reaching out to students in the community. This year, Assistant Professor Anne Churchland organized a trip to the local West Side Elementary School to celebrate Brain Awareness Week. Joined by Professor Tony Zador and a group of graduate students and postdocs, Churchland had the opportunity to teach 7-10 year olds about the kinds of cells and structures that make up the brain. “It was a unique opportunity to have a bunch of scientists in front of 150 students. We used some pretty amusing materials, like brain hats [see below],” says Churchland. “It kept the students engaged while teaching them how scientists study the brain.”