What did you do on your day off of school? Most students were glued to their bed hanging out at home, but not at Project Exploration. Project Exploration hosted its first Science Digest of the year. “What is Science Digest,” you ask? Science Digest is a series of small gatherings where students enjoy a meal with scientists to learn about a specific topic and talk about career pathways. Yes, that’s right, science and food—but not necessarily food science. In this case, 14 Project Exploration students woke up early in the morning on a non-school day to talk about the science of whiskers over breakfast.
Two IGERT fellows, participating in Project Exploration’s youth outreach training partnership, led the first Science Digest. Chris Bresee, a graduate student at Northwestern University, and Gregg Tabot, a graduate student at the University of Chicago collaborated with Project Exploration’s Jameela as a facilitator to lead the Science Digest—The Science of Whiskers, on 11/11/11—a special numerical date that Science Digest participants pointed out. A few girls also pointed out that they were surprised to learn that Chris and Gregg “[were not] older scientists with lab coats that only study chemistry and physics…they were down to earth, they understood where we came from, [they were] regular people.”
I sat down with these hungry-for-science ladies to hear just what else they had to say about the Science Digest. I met with Hope, Dazsa, and Mayra, ranging in grade and from various schools, as they walked me through their personal highlights of the morning. They told me how Chris and Gregg explained that cats use their whiskers for balance and to passively touch objects. However, rats use their whiskers in an active manner to learn about their surroundings. Who would have thought that there was a difference in how Tom and Jerry sense the world?
The girls described how they had an opportunity to discover what this would be like at exploration stations. Two of the three stations required Science Digest participants to be blindfolded and passively and actively touch different shapes, sizes, and textures of objects with “whiskers”. However the third station, Dazsa’s favorite, had no whiskers. This station modeled how people (unlike cats or rats) use their sense of touch both passively and actively. Dazsa said that this activity really helped her understand the differences between passive and active touching. Hope added, “Active touching gives you more information, what it is and how it feels. [We were also able to] learn more about the differences between animals and humans and how [senses] function for both.”
Did you know that humans have more than 5 senses? Not only did Science Digest participant have an opportunity to explore the science of whiskers, they also were able to dig further into human senses. Hope, Dazsa, and Mayra reminisced on how in school they learned about the five senses: hearing, seeing, tasting, touching, and smelling, but today the Science Digest session complemented their school learning. They discussed how they learned about the sense of pain (nociception), and about the sense of temperature (thermoception). They agreed that these concepts were important to research “because it can help people with diseases such as helping a baby that is born without the sense of pain,” confirmed Hope. Mayra commented that research about senses is relevant for everyone, “We use our senses everyday; you use your senses when you touch a door knob.”
Hope, Dazsa, and Mayra were all very interested in the science topics presented at the Science Digest—The Science of Whiskers. The girls wrapped up their morning by expressing their thoughts about science. Mayra said, “It depends on the projects; I like dissections.” Dazsa was a little hesitant to respond. Hope said, “I like science, because I have a lot of questions…there are challenges… there’s always trial and error, but that’s just the nature of science, that’s what makes it fun.”
Hope aspires to be a genetic or forensic scientist, Dazsa is interested in acting, and Mayra is interested in both modeling and pursing a career in nursing, working at a home for elderly adults. Stay tuned to find out more about their experiences in Project Exploration’s programs and to find out about the next Science Digest—Engineering, to be held on January 16th.