Each year the U-Michigan chapter of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) partners with Forsythe Middle School to host the Young Scientists’ Expo, an event where middle school students showcase their science projects and graduate student groups from U-Michigan do a variety of science demonstrations. It’s a public community event held at Forsythe Middle School in Ann Arbor and was on March 17th, 2019. Although the expo is only one day, AWIS grad student volunteers go to Forsythe a total of 10 times over winter for an after-school mentor session where volunteers help students develop and carry out science projects.
These after-school sessions consist of a 30 minute science demonstration done by grad student groups followed by 30 minutes of one-on-one mentoring with AWIS volunteers. The sessions are a fantastic way to engage, inspire, and help students come up with a science project, carry it out, and design a poster to present at the expo. Having 10 sessions over three months really gets the students and mentors involved and invested, and it’s fun to see relationships develop over time. AWIS supplies all materials for projects as well as poster boards to ensure that every student that wants to have a project is able to.
In a Lead Mentor position, I was in charge of organizing half of the after-school sessions. Every other Thursday I coordinated the science demos and carpools to the middle school, ordered supplies, and worked with my co-directors on the schedule and materials for both the after-school visits and the expo. I really enjoyed being involved with this outreach because it fosters interest in science through demos and gives all students the chance to develop a project with guidance from scientists at U-Michigan.
This years YSE drew in over 350 visitors from the Ann Arbor community, including families from nearby schools along with Forsythe students and their friends and family. There were about 80 student projects on display and more than 20 science demos brought by U-Michigan students and groups. The U-Michigan Natural History Museum was also involved and had a number of their Science Communication Fellows present their demonstrations to the public. Students received a name tag, t-shirt, and “science passport” to collect stamps at the demos they visited, making the demos much more engaging.
Two of my fellow first-year grad students in the Earth Department and I also ran a mineralogy demo at the YSE. Allison, Colleen, and I put together a demo to teach students how crystals grow from a liquid by melting down pure bismuth metal and then slowly allowing the molten pool to cool from the surface down, pulling geometric bismuth crystals from the the melt. Bismuth is a non-toxic heavy metal that forms beautiful crystals that turn rainbow colors after reacting with air, making this demo a super cool way to show how crystals form and grow. We had a ton of fun pulling crystals and talking to the students, and were one of the favorite demo stations because we let students take home small bismuth crystals.