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Boston-area girls learn that science can be cool, too

More than 50 girls from Boston and nearby communities converged on the Curry Student Center Ballroom recently for a daylong fanfest—about science.

The girls, aged 5 to 12, and their families took part in Show Me the Science!, organized by the Boston-based, nonprofit Science Club for Girls in collaboration with Northeastern students and Northeastern’s Center for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Education.

The girls created solar cells with household items, observed flies and doodle bugs, made drinking glasses sing and measured the speed of light by microwaving chocolate.

The event was a “reverse science fair,” meaning that science experts facilitated hands-on activities to introduce younger students to science concepts in a fun and engaging way. Several Northeastern student organizations had activity stations at the event, alongside presenters from other local colleges, nonprofits and businesses.

Jaylene Ollivierre, a biochemistry PhD candidate and the science outreach coordinator for Northeastern’s Graduate Student Association, said the event was “a great way to awaken a young student’s curiosity about the world around them. Best of all, we helped to dispel the misconception that science is tough and boring.”

Ollivierre’s group of DNAngels, all members of assistant professor Penny Beuning’s DNA Repair Research Group, demonstrated general chemistry, cell biology and polymer chemistry lessons, teaching girls to create slime, extract DNA from strawberries and make bubbles bounce.

“The girls had as much fun learning and interacting as we had teaching them,” said Ollivierre, “It’s really rewarding to see them respond that way to something you’re passionate about.”

Helping with one activity was Elizabeth Brown, a third-year student in computer and information science. Brown is vice president of the Northeastern student organization CISters, which promotes computer science learning through Girl Scout badge projects about the Internet. CISters also participates in Bootstrap, a College of Computer and Information Science program that teaches middle-school girls to create their own video game programs.

“Our activity was called Code Breaker! and introduced the students to binary code. We also introduced the students to the concept of a programming language, showing them how to make shapes in a language called Scheme,” said Brown, “It was great to see the girls responding well to and showing interest in computers.”

Show Me the Science, a model that has been refined by Science Club for Girls, has become an annual event in Boston. Science Club for Girls uses free programs to increase girls’ self-confidence and literacy in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The club is assisted by two Fellows from the Massachusetts Promise Fellowship, part of Northeastern’s Center of Community Service.

Saturday’s event was organized with the help of Science Club for Girls’ Northeastern chapter (the first official campus chapter) and Northeastern’s Center for STEM Education, which works with a number of Northeastern student organizations to increase opportunities to engage in science outreach in the community.

– Lauren Horn

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