February 18, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 10

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    [cameron clark and caroline taylor], by jason smith  
    Cameron Clark gets a few tips from Caroline Taylor, a University doctoral student in theoretical chemistry. Clark, who examined the effects of antibodies on bacteria for his project, won an award of excellence at the regional science fair.

    University students encourage young scientists in local public schools

    By Steve Koppes
    News Office

    While the University has a longtime record for producing award-winning science, some of the current science being recognized on Chicago’s South Side is coming out of local public schools.

    Three middle-school students from Hartigan School carried home awards from the Region 4 Science Fair at Curie Metro High School on Saturday, Feb. 6. The three projects had been selected for the regional competition last November during a Hartigan School science fair judged by University graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

    One of the projects, by Cameron Clark, a 13-year-old seventh-grader, received an award of excellence at the regional fair. Clark’s project was supported by an $80 grant from the University’s James Franck Institute and a Meade Instruments microscope donated to the Hartigan School at the suggestion of Caroline Taylor, a Chicago doctoral student in theoretical chemistry.

    “It was really very impressive,” Taylor said of Clark’s project. The other two projects, by seventh-grader Virgil Liberty and sixth-grader Glynn Ford, received honorable mentions.

    Clark examined the effects of antibodies on bacteria while Liberty experimented with what type of diaper absorbs the most water. Ford studied how the addition of salt and other substances affects the freezing properties of water.

    “There is a lot of stuff I like about science, especially astronomy,” Clark said. “That’s what I want to be when I grow up, an astronomer. I like science a lot.”

    The University-Hartigan School interactions were initiated by Hartigan School science teacher Lilla Green after she attended a class taught by Donald York, Professor in Astronomy, during the summer of 1994. Green submitted a proposal to York that resulted in the Science Partners Project, which fostered one-on-one partnerships between Chicago scientists and K-12 schoolteachers.

    Chicago researchers have been dazzling K-8 students with laboratory tours at the University and scientific demonstrations at Hartigan ever since. The students have seen everything from glowing pickles, which demonstrate how pickle brine conducts electrical current, to bananas frozen in liquid nitrogen, then shattered into thousands of tiny banana pieces with a hammer and nail.

    “The students like playing with liquid nitrogen. They think that’s very cool,” Taylor said. “We have as much fun as they do.”

    Scientists do not usually make glowing pickles or freeze bananas in their day-to-day work, of course, but they do have fun. And each group of Chicago volunteers brings enthusiasm for science to the Hartigan School in a different way, Green said.

    “The first group of volunteers, boy, we were on e-mail like I had no other life,” she said. Another group faithfully visited the school at the end of every month.

    “The kids have a way of capturing the heart,” Green said. “If you came to the school and saw the kids and talked with them, you wouldn’t forget it. That’s what gets the volunteers coming back.”

    Taylor typically spends seven or eight hours a month working with Hartigan teachers and students. She and Green have met many times over coffee to review lesson plans.

    Although it is often difficult for a busy Chicago graduate student to make time for volunteer work, Taylor for one, finds it uplifting when she does. The work earns both appreciation from the students and the gratitude of their parents.

    “They know that it makes a difference,” Taylor said. “They want to see their kids succeed.”