Girls Learn To Put Fun Into Science With Help Of Lab Chicks

By Gary Demuth
The Salina Journal, Kan.

The two budding scientists had finally figured out a way to make their balloon-rocket sail.

By putting a coffee filter and two straws on top of a clear plastic cup with a small toy dog inside, Myah Elliott and Grace Lee were able to tape a straw on either side of a large orange balloon and secure it with a clothespin.

Their objective? To place the balloon on top of a thin fishing line, take out the clothespin and watch the balloon and its canine cargo sail across.

Unfortunately, the balloon only sputtered about six feet before running out of air, but Myah and Grace were overjoyed at their accomplishment.

“I didn’t think the balloon was going to work, but we figured it out,” said Myah, 10, a student at Garfield Elementary School in Abilene.

Girls learn in labs

Myah and Grace, also 10 and a Garfield student, were participating in “Girls in the Lab Day” Friday at Salina South High. They and about 120 other mostly fourth- and fifth-grade girls from area schools, spent the day learning about physics, chemistry and engineering through a series of fun, educational projects in Salina South science labs.

Their hosts were about 27 members of the Lab Chicks, a club at Salina South created nine years ago as a way to get high school girls interested in and pursue careers in science.

“There’s a need for women in science, especially in areas of physics, chemistry and engineering,” said Nikki Chamberlain, Salina South chemistry teacher and Lab Chicks adviser.

Event 8 years old

Beginning eight years ago, female students from fourth through eighth grade were invited to participate in projects aimed at sparking a passion for pursuing science in high school and beyond.

“Each girl gets four labs during the day, and the Lab Chicks run all the labs,” Chamberlain said.

Various projects

Projects this year included “Balloon Rockets,” during which Myah and Grace found success; “The Weakest Link,” building the longest chain to hold the most weight; “Egg Fling,” slinging eggs in a container without cracking them; “Medieval Science,” the art of making a catapult; “Magnificent Marble Maze,” creating a maze for a marble from recycled materials on poster board; “Plant Pigment and Strawberry DNA,” determining the DNA of strawberries and using paper chromatography to separate and identify different plant pigments; “Kitchen Chaos,” identifying and labeling six different baking powders; and “Super Subs,” creating a submarine that will sink and come to the surface.

“We have different activities each year, so girls can come more than one year and do different things,” Chamberlain said.

Sparking interest

Sarah Zajac, 15, a Salina South sophomore and Lab Chick, started attending lab day events in the fourth grade. She said lab days sparked an interest in science she plans to take beyond high school.

“When I was in this, I got to meet older girls who were into science,” said Sarah, who wants to pursue a career in chemistry. “Now it’s nice to help other girls get the same science experience I had and share my passion for science with them.”

Sarah spent part of the day Friday helping a group of girls construct small catapults. The goal was to be able to fling a ping-pong ball into a pyramid of small blocks, knocking them over.

Meghan Brockmeier, 11, and Lela Campbell, 10, were part of a group that constructed a catapult from a Ritz cracker box, rubber bands, duct tape and a plastic spoon, onto which a ping-pong ball was placed.

Meghan said the catapult was too flimsy to do any real damage to the block wall.

‘An awesome time’

“I’m having an awesome time anyway,” said Meghan, a fifth-grader from Hope. “This is getting me interested in science.”
Lela, an Abilene home schooled student, said she loves science, especially botany.

“I’m studying that in school now,” she said.

Sarah McConnell, 17, a Salina South senior who plans to be a doctor, said she was inspired by older people interested in science and now wants to pass that on to children, especially girls.

“We don’t want girls to feel ashamed about being geeky and liking science,” she said.
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“Sometimes school sucks the fun out of science, but this is not the boring work that’s assigned in school; these are fun experiments.”

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