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Oct. 24, 2007

Siemens Science Day Inspires Budding Scientists

Will the egg survive the drop? "Eggs Away!" workshop participants wait to find out.

Watch Eggs Away! video
of Siemens Science Day

Photo gallery of Siemens Science Day

The kids knew their mission: Save the egg.

Spread across the floor of Earl Hall, they surveyed their materials and strategized. Would drinking straws, Popsicle sticks, a plastic baggie and masking tape cushion an egg against a five-foot drop? The countdown began. The heavily insulated egg plummeted to the ground. “It’s good!” Lauren called, to cheers and applause.

Enthusiasm and inspiration were in large supply at Siemens Science Day held at Columbia University on Saturday, Oct 20th. More than 1,300 students, parents and instructors participated in 20-plus workshops and exhibits, taught by Columbia faculty and graduate students, as well as Siemens professionals and specialists, such as criminalists from New York City’s own crime lab.

From classroom to classroom, students practiced with robot snakes used for surgical procedures, listened to earthquakes and learned about endangered species. Local teachers had their own workshops, designed to provide them with curriculum ideas to make science fun, with titles like “School of Rock Workshops.”

The Siemens Foundation is one of the private sectors’ biggest proponents of math and science education. Since launching Siemens Science Day in 2005, the program has reached 30,000 children nationwide. This was Columbia’s first time hosting the event.

U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, whose congressional district includes Harlem and Columbia, lauded the science day as an investment ensuring “our young people become part of the most educated workforce in the world.” City Councilman Robert Jackson also welcomed participants and presented a proclamation from Mayor Bloomberg.

In the “Bath Bubblers” workshop, Aberdeen Allen, a senior research scientist at Colgate-Palmolive, showed students how to make bath bombs—soaps that fizzle and dissolve in bathwater. “I had fun,” said Jazmine, 8, after attending the workshop. “I also learned that scientists sometimes make mistakes. You shouldn’t get intimidated.”

Graduate student Andy Washkowitz’s exhibit, “Who Stole the Cookies from the Cookie Jar,” showed students how to analyze DNA samples. He marveled at the wealth of interactive play at Siemens Science Day: “I would have found my way to science a lot easier if I’d seen something like this as a kid.”

During the opening ceremony, Nobel Laureate Horst Stormer described one of his most affecting childhood memories: hearing the “beep...beep...beep” of the Soviet Union’s Sputnik satellite on his radio 50 years ago. Rather than competing in the international space race, this generation faces another wake-up call, he said. “Young people like you will address global warming,” adding that he hopes to see many of them at Columbia again—as students.

James Whaley, president of the Siemens Foundation, thinks that is possible. “We inspired some kids today,” he said. “As I was walking out of the egg-drop workshop, I heard a young girl say: ‘I’m going to be a scientist now.’

– Story by Stacy Parker Aab. Photo by David Wentworth. Videos produced by Ed Holt.