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A Science Fair to Remember

blank Ed Norton
Students from Thomas G. Hayes Elementary demonstrate balloon rockets for judge Barbara Migeon, a professor in the Institute of Genetic Medicine. (Photo: Fred Dubs)

Nationwide, educators say, participation in science fairs is dwindling. But judging by the enthusiasm of the young students who brought their science projects to Turner Concourse, in East Baltimore, at least, this time-honored tradition appears to be very much alive and well.

Held on May 17, the first annual Johns Hopkins Community Science Fair attracted some 30 students from seven East Baltimore elementary schools. Some of the old standbys—the papier-mâché volcano, for one—were back, but many projects radiated that WOW factor.

One fifth-grader powered a digital clock with a couple of potatoes spiked with galvanized nails and copper wire. Two others made electromagnets from batteries, wire and nails. Burning questions were probed: What type of liquid best cleans a tarnished penny? A student from William Paca Elementary supplied the answer: Sprite. 

The science fair is the latest component of the Johns Hopkins Community Science Program. A partnership between the School of Medicine’s basic science departments and East Baltimore elementary schools, the program was established in 2001 when oncology researcher Rhoda Alani invited students from neighborhood schools to tour labs in the Preclinical Teaching Building.

Since that first Science Day, more than 1,000 youngsters have rotated through labs in the basic science and cancer research buildings, taking part in hands-on experiments and chatting up Hopkins scientists. “They absolutely love it,” said teacher Janie Ahmed of Dr. Bernard Harris Elementary. “It’s always the most popular field trip of the year.”

The Community Science Program is believed to be the only one of its kind at an academic medical center. “Students at the science fair had to pose questions, form hypotheses, use scientific methods, write up conclusions, and present their projects to the judges,” said Margaret Strong, a senior research technician in Molecular Biology and Genetics, who now manages the Community Science Program in conjunction with the Office of Community Affairs.

The event brought out the heavies. Top Hopkins scientists were among the judges, and Chi Dang, vice dean for research, delivered the opening remarks.

“Some of the kids described their projects with such great passion, innocence and enjoyment,” Dang said later. “It was really one of the most enjoyable days I’ve had in the 20 years I’ve been here.”

Anne Bennett Swingle

 

 

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