Thomas, Epstein to Collaborate with Discovery Museums on Dreyfus Foundation Grant

The Discovery Museums (Acton, MA), in collaboration with Professors Christine Thomas and Irv Epstein (Brandeis chemistry department) and Brandeis’s American Chemical Society Student Affiliates Chapter have received funding from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation to develop and implement a project called Reaction Station: Adventures for Young Chemists.

Pilot tests of a prototype Reaction Box with students

The project aims to enhance and promote hands-on chemistry experiences for youth in schools and museums. Implementation of the project involves first designing “Reaction Stations,” comprised of large plastic boxes with holes cut out for gloved hand access, and then carrying out educational and experiential programming for children using these Reaction Stations. As children are often enticed by messy, smelly, or otherwise highly-reactive experiments, these portable Reaction Stations (similar in concept to gloveboxes used by members of Professor Thomas’s Lab) will provide a safe way for children to engage in experiments that are often avoided in school or museum settings due to their messy nature.

Denise LeBlanc, Director of Learning Experiences at The Discovery Museums (and also a former research scientist in the Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center on campus), anticipates much success from the Reaction Stations. LeBlanc and Thomas will devise various experiments for children to carry out. Possibilities include: identifying a mystery substance as part of a “crime scene,” testing the pH of common household items, exploring reactivity of everyday chemicals that, at first glance, seem inert, and other experiments that introduce children to topics of polymers, chromatography, phase changes, etc.

Undergraduate students in the American Chemical Society Student Affiliate Chapter will work with the children as model scientists and helpers. Throughout the duration of the year, undergrads from the chemistry department will partake in demonstrations and lessons at the museum in Acton, MA, as well as offsite through various after-school programs. Beyond conducting demonstrations in a museum or school setting only, the Reaction Station will be a teaching tool that educators can bring to their own classrooms or other venues to perpetuate their students’ engagement in chemistry and hands-on research. Says Thomas, “Making research understandable and accessible to children at a young age is pivotal in the development of new generations of chemists.”

The Reaction Station: Adventures for Young Chemists proposal was one of 19 grants awarded this year. Other recipients include universities and museum/science outreach organizations who intend to advance the chemical sciences through innovative projects.

Low-energy physics

Emeritus Professor of Physics Bob Lange will be on campus today at 2:30 pm and on Nov. 30 at the “Maasai hut” outside Usdan to discuss his work in Tanzania. Lange has been investigating ways to reduce carbon emissions and bring technology to remote communities in collaboration with the local population. For more, see the stories at BrandeisNOW and in The Justice

Illuminating career paths in the sciences for high school students

On November 5th, the Van Hooser lab in the Biology Department hosted nine high school students from Hyde Park’s Boston Preparatory Charter Public School (BPCPS) for both a tour of the lab and an open question session about the specific goals of the lab’s research, and about science careers in general.

Boston Prep serves students from disadvantaged areas of Boston, with 76% qualifying for free and reduced price lunch and 92% being of minority racial backgrounds. As part of a rigorous educational program that seeks to prepare them for college and beyond, BPCPS sophmores visit various area businesses twice a year for hands-on learning about the careers open to them. The school has been nationally recognized for its academic excellence. It also bucks trends in the sciences — while nationwide there is a noted drop-off in interest in the sciences as students enter high school, particularly among young women,  (Osborne, Simon, and Collins 2003; American Assoc. of University Women, 1992), students at Boston Prep retain a high interest in the sciences throughout their tenure there, and female students actually become more interested in the sciences in high school.

Assistant Professor Steve Van Hooser led the students through a brief introduction to life in an academic science lab and his personal career path, before discussing his lab’s focus on the visual system and the impact that basic research has on everyday life and understanding. The students then took a tour of the lab, and were able to visualize neurons under the lab’s 2-photon microscope. After the visit, Steve noted, “It was terrific to be able to talk with such promising young people and to share a little of the brain science we are doing here at Brandeis.  The students asked really insightful questions about our studies, the use of animals in research, and the clinical applications of basic research.  It is exciting to think about what these students will be doing in 15 years.”

Those interested in hosting a future visit from students can contact Jenn Wolff from the Van Hooser lab (jwolff at, or contact Danielle Pape at BPCPS directly ( dpape at (617)333-6688 ext. 126 )

Brandeis Undergrad chooses Science Museum over the Dorms

…but the housing lottery is a lot more competitive!

Alex Dainis, an undergraduate student in the Garrity Lab, has made it to the final five of over one-thousand people competing to spend an entire month living in the Chicago Museum of Science.  Her responsibilities will include blogging, tweeting, plus getting her typing hands dirty doing science demonstrations– ultimately communicating science to the public using diverse media.  Alex comes well-equipped with a double major in film and biology, and wants to use her expertise to shatter (nay, “DESTROY”)  stereotypes regarding both science and scientists.

So please take a moment to vote for Alex, and help her help Science make friends with the public!

See coverage of the competition on and Huffington Post here and here, respectively.

Congratulations, Alex!

Globe highlights Lange’s work in Tanzania

Retired professor Robert Lange has installed nearly 200 solar panels on roofs in the past two years on Tumbatu, one of the small islands that make up Zanzibar in Tanzania, according to a story in the Boston Globe.  The Globe reports that “these solar panels are the product of a second career’s worth of vision and sweat by Robert Lange…who helps people put science to use in one of the poorest countries in southern Africa.”  Lange hopes to expand his work to Masai villages.

SACNAS Meeting at Brandeis on April 24

SACNAS (Advancing Hispanics/Chicanos & Native Americans in Science) is a national society with a 37-year history of supporting minority scientists and science students. SACNAS members are dedicated to giving back through mentorship, peer networks, and professional development, and to engaging in science research and leadership of the highest caliber. The organization and its members and affiliates are committed to encouraging minority students and scientists to advance to their utmost capability.
The Brandeis SACNAS student chapter will be hosting the Greater Boston SACNAS Regional Meeting on Saturday, April 24, 2010. All SACNAS members, and those interested in SACNAS and promoting diversity in the sciences are invited to participate in the regional activities.

Saturday, April 24, 9am – 6pm @ Brandeis University:
Greater Boston SACNAS Regional Meeting
Coming Together for a Cause: Diversifying the Scientific Community

This dynamic meeting will feature talks by Brandeis professors from the sciences, outside guests, an alternative careers panel, student speakers, a networking lunch and a poster session. Registration is required to attend. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. We welcome all to attend (undergraduate, graduate and post-doc, and faculty). Please click here for more information and to register.

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