Depending on which lab site they chose, budding scientists viewed brain specimens under microscopes, learned how DNA is used in forensics or watched mosquitoes feed on blood. Or they visited a plant transformation facility, learned about vaccine research or pretended to be epidemiological disease detectives.
These budding scientists were 12- and 13-year-old students who were participating in the 10th annual Frontiers in Science & Medicine Day. In all, approximately 600 Montgomery County Public Schools seventh graders from Benjamin Banneker and Briggs Chaney middle schools participated in the event, which took place throughout the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center on Nov. 9.
They spent part of the day at Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus, where they delved into hands-on science and medicine activities, such as learning about sonography, cybersecurity, robotics and blood types. Students spent the other part of the day visiting a local laboratory or hospital so they could experience what doctors and scientists do on a daily basis.
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 exercise science lab of Salisbury University and the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.
“Frontiers in Science & Medicine Day is designed to expose middle school students to career opportunities in STEM fields,” said Leslie Weber, JHU Montgomery County Campus director. “This is a time when students are thinking about what they want to be when they grow up. Montgomery County has hundreds of biotech companies, but many people are unaware of the work that goes on in these buildings. On Frontiers Day, these labs open their doors – and the eyes of these young students.”
Montgomery County has more than 300 biotech companies and 10,000 highly educated biotech workers. Yet many people are unaware of the work that goes on in these buildings.
Frontiers is designed to have direct tie-ins to the MCPS science curriculum.
“Our seventh-grade science curriculum has a strong life science focus, and this event gave the students a great opportunity to experience how what they have been learning in their classroom setting translates into professional sciences,” said Dina Link, secondary science specialist for the school district. “Students get very excited seeing the range of job possibilities. Many of them will take science classes in high school they might not have considered because they have a career goal as a result of this event. This event was a wonderful example of how our students benefit from partnerships with the professional science community and MCPS.”
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.
JHU students in the biotechnology master’s degree students led the seventh-graders through several of the activities -- an opportunity for the younger generation to interact with students just a few years older than them. Kris Obom, director of the Center for Biotechnology Education for Advanced Academic Programs, which is part of JHU’s Krieger School of Arts & Sciences, said giving students a chance to experience a real lab can be an eye-opening opportunity for seventh graders.
“All of us have a vested interest in preparing the next generation for career paths in this area,” Obom said.