The University of Rhode Island held the second annual Sugar Science Day for high school girls Wednesday, Feb. 22.
Mindy Levine, program coordinator and Associate Professor of Chemistry, says how excited she is to bring the program back for another year, especially for girls in high school.
“For high school girls in particular, they’re already thinking about college,” Levine said. “So this is a great point to be able to be like ‘you’re getting ready for college, you’re thinking about college. Your classes in science are going to be hard but not withstanding look at how much fun it is.” Levine added that she likes doing outreach events and that she is particularly interested in getting more females to want to do science.
At the Sugar Science Day, 42 high school girls had the opportunity to conduct chemistry experiments involving pop rocks, soda, candy and, above all, the sugar in it all. They made sugar rockets where the fuel was sugar, blew up balloons only using Coke-a-Cola and nerds or pop rocks, dissolved the colors of M&Ms and Skittles to see what the colors are made up of, made rock candy and more.
“It’s really interesting,” said Destiny Reyes, a 10th grade student at the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, commenting on what the group had done in the morning. Fellow classmate Aaliyah Ortiz added that one of the first experiments they did was weird but in a good way. Both Reyes and Ortiz said they came to the Sugar Science Day because they are interested in the sciences and may want to follow that interest into college.
Graduate students are also helping out at the event, overseeing a team of girls and helping them conduct the experiments. Ben Cromwell, a first-year graduate student said that being able to get out of the classroom to help is a nice escape.
“It’s being able to relay scientific information to people who may not have scientific knowledge,” Cromwell said. He added that getting this experience is a good way to train themselves in getting to teach science. “We’re learning how to reach out and how to do out-reach, cause part of it is teaching the world about science to people that may not have the same science background as us.”
The University of Rhode Island puts on this program thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation. They are being funded to do research on cephalic sugar molecules, according to Levine. This five-year grant also supports what the National Science Foundation calls “Broader Impact” which looks at “creating an impact larger than the hard science experiments,” according to Levine.
“[Levine] really believes that it is our responsibility not only to apply our Chemistry knowledge to the world but to also inspire future chemists,” Cromwell said.
Levine’s vision is to spread scientific knowledge to the youth, especially to those who may not yet consider it to be a calling for them in the future.
“I want people in general to understand to not be afraid of chemistry and I want these kids in particular to associate that science is cool,” Levine said. “Today, in 2017, you ask a random sampling of kids of any age to draw what they think a scientist is, it’s going to be a white old man in a lab coat. To the extend we can introduce these people that people of all colors, genders and backgrounds are all scientist. I think that’s beneficial to them too.”