New York State Assemblywoman Donna A. Lupardo shakes a pom-pom made of recycled plastic grocery bags as she visits the poster session of the Go-Green Institute, which features local middle-school students who excel in math and science, at the Lecture Hall on July 22. Campers Christopher King, 13, left, of West Middle School in Binghamton; Maitri Mangal, 12, center, of Union-Endicott Middle School; McGinnis Miller, 12, of Maine-Endwell Middle School; and Yvonne Raychawdhuri, 13 of Vestal Middle School (not pictured), experimented on which plastic bags were best for the environment.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Top middle school students take part in Go Green Institute
August 1, 2011Tweet
Getting a look at what a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) can do is all in a day’s work for graduate student Nian Du, who regularly uses the microscope to conduct research at the Analytical Diagnostics Lab at Binghamton University’s Biotechnology Building. Not so for 53 rising eighth-graders participating in the fourth annual Go Green Institute.
After coating an insect and a human hair with gold to make them better conductors – and the better to see them – Du projected the magnified images on a computer screen. Student reaction to the image of the insect’s eye and face was immediate. “They’re big, like an inflated balloon or bubble wrap.” “There are tiny hairs on the eyes.” “Its face is crushed in.”
Students then discussed how insect eyes are different from human eyes (insects have compound eyes and each unit is a lens, hence the “bubble wrap” comment); and why the face looked crushed (when Du coated the insect with gold, it was done in a vacuum environment for better adherence, which drew water out of the sample, collapsing it some).
When students compared the insect’s hair to a human hair (from Ben’s head), they also saw differences. The insect’s hair had ridges and valleys and measured 23-24 micrometers in width. Ben’s hair appeared pitted, but was still much smoother in appearance than the insect’s hair and was much wider − 100 micrometers wide.
Go Green team leader Dan Brennan, a Binghamton University alumnus who teaches chemistry at Broome Community College, encouraged discussion about what the students were seeing throughout the demonstration. He’s one of several Go Green team leaders, including BU faculty, local middle school teachers and BU graduate students. “Most students don’t see this until college or graduate school,” he said.
Go Green participants, selected from the top science students in 15 area school districts, spend two weeks rotating through tracks in the physical sciences, life sciences and math/engineering tracks, getting a hands-on taste of each discipline. They also work on specific projects with an eye toward sustainability, culminating with a poster presentation on their projects the last day of the institute.
Go Green is able to inspire students at a critical time in their lives, said Wayne Jones, professor and chair of the BU Chemistry Department and Go Green director. “These students are at an age where they already have an interest and an aptitude in science, math and engineering, but they haven’t been exposed to all of the possibilities these disciplines can bring to their lives,” he said. “Go Green immerses them in hands-on activities and opens up those possibilities to them.”
“I wish I had something like this when I was a kid,” said project team leader Ken Skorenko, a doctoral student in chemistry at Binghamton. His team was working on a de-icing project, and they’re smart, he said. “They’re debating the best thing to do. I wouldn’t have been so motivated when I was that young. And they’re having fun. We were doing experiments yesterday and it was time for a break and I had to trick them into taking it because they didn’t want to stop.”
For the first time this year, a satellite Go Green program was held at SUNY Oneonta. Eighteen sixth graders participated in the one-week program, ending it by skyping with the Binghamton participants about their projects – and trying to solve the question of the day.
Retired teacher Cora Walter knows Go Green is important. “There are always sports camps and this population tends to get lost,” she said. “This is a nice avenue to make science as important as sports. It’s challenging for the kids and Go Green alumni are asking to come back.”
Andrea Alio, who is working on her doctorate in Binghamton University’s School of Education, said that having this sort of collaborative experience with the University is one the participants will never forget. “They’re able to see the process of science which isn’t always expressed well in the classroom,” she said. “They can at least begin to have conversations and have time to focus. If these students don’t get the results they want or expect when they’re working on something here, at least they’re still learning and that’s what science is.”
A visit to Binghamton University’s four-climate greenhouse taught Alenna Sze-Tu and Tyler Hubeny from Union-Endicott about how to control pests. “We’ve learned about biological pest controls and how they’re beneficial,” they said. “There are natural enemies of pests that attack pests here without using pesticides. The benefits are it keeps costs down, is safer, and the health conditions improve for faculty and staff and the plants, too.”
Chenango Valley’s Carlee Ostrom used her visit to the greenhouse to prepare for a later experiment. “I’m looking at leaves for a project that we’re going to do later under a microscope,” she said.
Making nylon, generating power by riding a bicycle and answering a science-related question of the day makes a difference for participants − just ask the Go Green alumni. Dylan Williams from Newark Valley, who attended Go Green last year, returned this year and served as a photographer, chronicling the two weeks of activities.
Rose Bernier, about to begin her junior year at Seton Catholic Central in Binghamton, was a participant in the first Go Green four years ago. “I was interested in doing something involving science on campus and am working with students in the engineering track,” she said. “They’re measuring and weighing things, and making circuits. When they have questions, I help explain things to them.
“It’s really amazing how much the participants know, how much they understand at such a high level and how much they’re learning,” she said.
Already interested in science and math when she took part in Go Green, Bernier called it a “really cool experience.” Though unsure what specific direction she will follow, she definitely wants a career in the sciences. Recalling how much fun it was to make nylon, she’s looking forward to taking AP chemistry at Seton beginning in the fall.
Go Green was funded jointly by the Small Scale Systems and Integration Packaging Center, Broome-Tioga BOCES, the Southern Tier 13N Wired Initiative and the National Science Foundation.