Waltham Teachers Meet with Brandeis Scientists

Brandeis scientists & Waltham teachers

On Tuesday, November 7th, 32 science teachers from Waltham Public Middle and High Schools visited the Brandeis science labs as part of the Third Annual Brandeis Scientists in the Classroom Workshop. The workshop is designed to be an opportunity to connect middle and high school science teachers with Brandeis scientists. The teachers were grouped and matched with 14 Brandeis graduate students, postdocs and faculty who shared their Brandeis science research directly with the teachers to help them understand what we do, so they can better integrate science into their classroom lessons.

This event was an extension of an ongoing partnership between Brandeis and Waltham High School and was sponsored by the Brandeis MRSEC. The Waltham school district has a high percentage of students from backgrounds underrepresented in the sciences. Brandeis offers several on-going programs with Waltham teachers and students in an effort to broaden their participation in STEM.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A Brandeis Science Pirate’s Life for Me

Ahoy mateys! Greetings from the Acton Discovery Museum.  With sponsorship by the Brandeis Materials Research and Engineering Center (MRSEC), Division of Sciences undergraduate and graduate students, post docs and faculty pirates took a journey down to the Discovery Museum and interacted with those visitors who dared board our ship on November 18th.

Our visitors ranged in age from pre-school to middle school, and all those who came to see us joined our cause and wore eye patches. These “new” pirates were given mini telescopes and museum maps to navigate how to get to the pirate stations across the high seas of the museum. Our visitors collaborated with their families to figure out which direction they were going in the museum using the compasses placed strategically (at visitor eye level) throughout the exhibits. When the new young science pirates found their way, some had to walk the plank with eyes open and closed, experiencing what it would like to be actually at sea. Afterwards, they learned how our ear physiology helps us keep our balance, especially when aboard a shaky vessel.

Others got to see how far they could throw objects and understand the projectile motion behind cannons on pirate ships and test object density with dry ice and balloons. Some young pirates tried to balance buried treasure coins in aluminum foil boats, and others tested their ability to make a variety of pirate-approved knots with rope. Of course, many our visitors discovered their favorite amino acid was ARGGGGG-inine. We can’t wait to return in the spring and teach more visitors at the upcoming “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Science” exhibit! For more information or to participate in our Discovery Museum events, please contact Melissa Kosinski-Collins (kosinski<at>brandeis.edu)

Amanda Winn ’13 is a Biology major, undergraduate teaching assistant in the General Biology lab, and occasional science pirate.

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.

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