The Philadelphia Science Festival is a week-long event hosted by the Franklin Institute that focuses on engaging the public in science and technology. University-sponsored lectures, exhibitions, and activities for all age groups take place across the city. The Science Festival is an opportunity for CAMB students to share their research and scientific knowledge with non-scientific members of the Philadelphia community in an accessible and interactive manner. The Festival culminates in the Science Carnival, a free public event that features booths and demonstrations geared towards children of all ages. CAMB students from two sub-programs ran booths at the Science Carnival, held this year on Saturday, April 30th at Penn’s Landing.
The Genetics and Gene Regulation sub-program (GGR) has sponsored a booth every year since the first Carnival in 2011. This year, the booth was organized by GGR students Gleb Bazilevsky, Kate Palozola, Jennifer Cohen, Chia-Yu Chung, Suzi Shapira, and Kelsey Johnson. The activity they organized aimed to teach participants about the central dogma of molecular biology by using stackable blocks as nucleotides and foam beads as amino acids. Children followed an example or made their own “RNA” with blocks, and then translated the RNA sequence into a foam “amino acid” bracelet to take home. Kids were excited to connect what they knew about DNA to the concept of proteins in their body’s cells, and though the ideas of transcription and translation were perhaps too abstract for very young kids, everyone seemed to enjoy the activity. Cohen says, “The chance to share our love of science is a refreshing reminder of where we all started. This event is a great opportunity to get out of the lab and get kids excited about genetics.”
The Developmental, Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology sub-program (DSRB) sponsored a booth at the Carnival for the first time this year, organized by Camille Syrett and Alex Rohacek. DSRB students played matching games with participants to teach them how model organisms such as fish, flies, and mice are used to learn about human biology and disease. Participants were asked to match model organism images on cards (as well as non-traditional models like penguins and spiders) with parts of the human body that the model might be used to study. Syrett says, “The kids surprised us with the number and creativity of their questions. They definitely engaged with the concept, and we had a fun time using penguins to explain basic ideas in development.” As a takeaway, children became familiar with the concept of model organisms and chose their favorite model organism sticker. “Zebrafish was the clear winner,” says Syrett.
Designing and implementing an activity that is exciting and informative to children of all ages (and parents!) is a rewarding challenge. The Science Carnival is an opportunity to share our passion for biology with kids who are eager to learn and question what we have to teach them.