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Slime Rules at Girls Science Day
Graduate student Tijana Jovanovic explains to students how they will make rock crystals to understand the concept of saturation.

Slime rules -- at least according to the 65 girls who attended Columbia 's Girls Science Day. Sponsored by Women in Science at Columbia (WISC), a networking group of graduate students and post doctoral assistants, the Nov. 13 program offered area fifth- through eighth-grade girls the chance to be scientists for a day. An experiment on polymers, where students made their own slime, proved the most popular of several activities in chemistry and physics.

Divided into groups of roughly a dozen girls, students were led through the experiments by WISC members in an effort to stimulate interest in areas of science where women are typically underrepresented. Studies have shown that girls usually lose interest in certain areas of science during their middle school years. The program was designed to pique their interest and hold it -- perhaps inspiring some of them to pursue careers in science.

Amy Petros, a bioinorganic chemist and WISC member, said, "We're very pleased with the turnout. Even a few women professors came."

Reshmi Mukherjee, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College , was one of them. "It's so exciting to see so many girls here," she said. Mukherjee's enthusiasm was topped only by that of the girls. When asked which experiment was their favorite, a group of about 20 fifth-graders yelled, "Slime!" And they were quickly seconded by another group of seventh- and eighth-graders. The mix of borax, glue and water did more than stimulate their imaginations. It also opened a lot of doors.

Several seventh-grade students said that they'd never done science experiments of this type in their schools and that they were eager to learn more. That desire to learn more about science is exactly what WISC hopes to achieve. The other Columbia groups that sponsored the event -- Materials Research Science & Engineering Center , Nanotechnology Science and Engineering Center , and the Departments of Physics and Chemistry -- and laboratory equipment supplier Fisher Scientific share that goal.

Ninety-five percent of the students attend schools in Manhattan , many from northern Manhattan . Petros hopes to see some of them at future WISC events. "We developed a survey to track them," she said. After the last experiment, the girls were asked to fill out the survey in exchange for a Girls Science Day T-shirt.

When asked whether they wanted to become scientists, several girls replied that they wanted to become lawyers or business owners. But an equal number -- with obvious glee in their voices -- indicated they wanted to be chemists. Women in Science at Columbia may have achieved their goal thanks to their dedication, determination and a blob of slime.

Girls Science Day Experiments

1. Which Is Water? By investigating and comparing the properties of several liquids, students determined which one was water.

2. Polymers and Slime: The girls learned what a polymer is and made their own slime.

3. Why Are Gems Colored? Kids learned about light and its properties to explain the coloring of gems.

4. Fractals: Using a computer program, students generated fractals, patterns of irregular shapes.

5. Saturation and crystals: The girls made rock crystals from a kit to understand the concept of saturation.

6. Graphing Your Motion: Kids used motion detectors connected to laptops to make position-time graphs.

7. Mathematical Physics: The girls determined the center of mass of several objects through experimentation.

8. Secrets of Sound Revealed: The physics of waves and music were uncovered.

9. Astronomy: Kids learned about the galaxy through images from the Hubble Deep Field telescope.

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Published: Dec 2, 2004
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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