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All Age Groups Marvel at Family Science Days Exhibits

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Children experienced science first-hand through hands-on experiments and demonstrations during the Annual Meeting’s Family Science Days. | Carla Schaffer/AAAS

BOSTON – Pharah Marcellus watched her seven-year-old daughter, Maya, bob excitedly around a micro-satellite display, one of more than 30 featured exhibits at Family Science Days, and was struck by the contrast with her own laborious, childhood introduction to science.

“Events like this make science fun for children,” said Marcellus, contemplating how she struggled as a young student to understand and fend off boredom triggered by textbook descriptions of Escherichia coli or E. coli. Maya, on the other hand, is captivated by science and aspires to be a veterinarian when she grows up. “At her age, to have a love for science is amazing. She does it on her own — she wants to learn.”

The cavernous Hynes Convention Center Exhibit Hall echoed with laughter and conversation on 18 February, the first of a two-day event, as the general public wove between different booths, where everything from furs and feathers of local animals, to hands-on experiments creating cancer drugs and an app mapping the topography of the human face were on full display.

Kids giggled as their parents staggered around after donning goggles that inverted their vision, then gaped as a virtual reality headset sent them soaring through the International Space Station. One thing seemed clear to everyone in attendance: science is anything but boring.

“If you sit through a long boring biology lecture you might think that science is boring,” said Gabrielle Anzalone, 11. Anzalone said she wants to be president when she grows up, in part because she wants to inspire the country to fix big problems like global warming. “Big events like this would be a better way to learn science. I like big, creative, fun things — that’s why I want to do some hands-on experiments, some kind of chemistry.”

Reem and Adham Hussein, 15 and 13, respectively, already hear about science at home from their dad, Islam Hussein, a virologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Neither are sure that they want to go into science yet — but they were surprised at how much they were already learning at Family Science Days.

“I just saw a real brain for the first time,” said Reem. “I thought it would be pink, but it was so small and all white!”

Gabriel Fernandez, 16, also cited the brain as a highlight of his visit — he’s pretty sure that he wants to go into chemistry when he gets older, but learning about other sciences made him consider what else he could do.

“I don’t know, seeing something like that, I might want to study the brain!” he said. Learning about the atom also made Fernandez realize the reach of science: “Atoms make up everything, so knowledge of an atom is essential if you want to make medicine, or technology. And you need scientists for that. If we didn’t have scientists we’d probably still have to light candles!”

Stacey Baker, one of the AAAS organizers of Family Science Days, said the event is one effort to bridge the gap between science and the public. “We hope that kids gain an excitement about science from this event,” Baker said. “That they see cool things, but especially that they get a sense of the broader diversity of scientific disciplines instead of just one topic or idea.”

For volunteers and scientists alike, working at the event resonated with what they’ve taken away from a lifetime of working in the sciences — both the good and the bad.  

“Girls from a young age aren’t really pushed to STEM fields,” said Corinne Decicco, a volunteer with the Science Club for Girls. “For me, it was odd that I wanted to look under rocks, or get a microscope for Christmas. But we want to provide mentors who show enthusiasm for science: that this is something you can do and if it’s something you’re passionate about, you should definitely pursue it.” 

[Associated image: Carla Schaffer/AAAS]