Young 'Student Scientists' See Science Come Alive, Thanks to Jefferson
Thirty first- through fifth-grade science students from the
Neshaminy School District are dramatically enriching their scientific knowledge
because of a unique teaching partnership with Jefferson research scientists.
Since the beginning of the school year, scientists from the laboratory of
Eric B. Kmiec, PhD, associate professor of pharmacology and genetics, Jefferson's
Kimmel Cancer Institute, have been providing guidelines for experiments
that help bring science alive for the students. For a unit called "Invisible
Life," or the science of taxonomy, students collected microbes from
all over the school, cultivated their growth in Petri dishes and recorded
daily logs of their observations.
"They conducted their experiments and documented their observations
exactly like real scientists would," explains their teacher, Belinda
Rice. Mrs. Rice credits Dr. Kmiec, together with her own husband, Michael,
who is a pharmacology research associate, and his departmental colleagues
with providing the scientific basis for the experiments with microbes as
well as for other studies, including the human body, continuing until the
end of the school year.
Mrs. Rice encouraged her students to branch out into other learning areas
with their new knowledge of microbes.
"Some microbes grew into colonies as big as a nickel, and each was
a different color, some actually quite beautiful. The students wrote poetry
about their microbes, some wrote prose, and some even fiction. They also
drew pictures of them, gave them names and classified them non-scientifically
into groups according to their physical characteristics. All in all, they
were very much involved in various hands-on ways."
Even more hands-on was the experience nine students shared one day while
visiting the pharmacology lab in the Bluemle Life Sciences Building.
Linda Miller, Seema Dutta, Mani Thiagaragan and the rest of Dr. Kmiec's
laboratory staff worked together to guide the students through experiments
in light microscopy, DNA analysis and protein chemistry.
All three experiments were visual in nature, with the one exploring protein
chemistry probably the most striking. Its purpose was to show that leaves
change color in the fall because a "green" leaf actually contains
several different color pigments such as yellow, orange and red. By "freezing"
spinach leaves with liquid nitrogen, then grinding the brittle leaves to
extract the various color pigments, the students actually saw by a "chromatography"
laboratory process the several different leaf colors.
"Everyone associates spinach leaves with green, but this experiment
shows spinach leaves contain orange, yellow and red ­p; the same pigment
structure as, say, an oak or elm leaf," explains Mr. Rice.
"I don't know of any other school in our district having the opportunity
that Jefferson presented to our students at Samuel Everitt and Albert Schweitzer
elementary schools," says Mrs. Rice. "The students are thrilled
by Jefferson's interest and involvement and of course hope to return next
year. We are all very grateful."