Joel Thurmond, a teaching laboratory specialist in New College, zoomed the scanning electron microscope to about 1,000 times magnification on an insect’s antennae. And Ellee, a seventh-grade at Booker Middle School, had a vision of her future.
Ellee told Thurmond she is thinking of working in forensics, and Thurmond told her the same technology that showed the antennae’s bristly surface could be used to look at gunpowder patterns, or in toxicology analysis.
And just like that, a daylong program at New College had served its purpose. The college hosted a a visit from College for Every Student, a non-profit that helps disadvantaged students prepare for and attend college. About 20 students in sixth, seventh and eighth grade at Booker attended.
Suzanne Setti, who graduated from New College last year, is a lead mentor with College for Every Student. She works with students at Booker, and worked with several faculty and staff members to plan a science-centered day at New College.
Earlier, the students heard a presentation on psychology of dolphins and manatees by alumnus Candice Frances. Then they rotated through stations at the Heiser Natural Sciences Center. They visited Prof. Amy Clore’s greenhouse, home to her National Science Foundation-funded research on maize, and looked at corn stalk cross-section through a fluorescence microscope in her lab.
Other stops included a series of chemical reaction demonstrations led by Brenna Kirk, Anne Emig and other students, under Prof. Steve Shipman’s outreach tutorial. One experiment, the infamous “elephant toothpaste” reaction, mixed hydrogen peroxide and soap — with iodine as an important catalyst — to produce a lava-flow that shot out of the top of a graduated cylinder and oozed all over a table top, drawing laughs from the crowd.
They also talked with a panel of students in Clore’s lab about their various research projects, from the fascinating creature called the tardigrade, to fungi that live in and work with plants.
Prof. Sandra Gilchrist organized tours of Pritzker Marine Biological Research Center. Students Sean Patton and Abigail Oakes led the middle-schoolers along the bayfront, introducing them to ospreys, egrets and marsh creatures, then into the building for up-close looks at corals, clownfish, mantis shrimp and more.
A particularly friendly trigger fish in the Pritzker classroom followed the pattern that eight-grader Michael gently traced on the aquarium glass. Michael followed Patton’s talk closely, sharing stories about gar, a fish with heavy scales and a near-impervious bony head.
Nearly everything came off smoothly, save for one stubborn experiment where a dollar bill coated in ethanol and water failed to burn. But even that taught a valuable lesson, Kirk said: “You can try something and it doesn’t work, and so you make it better. That’s what science is all about.”