WiSE Fun with DNA

It was an incredible experience creating the first science summer camp for girls on Long Island.  On behalf of WiSE CSHL, in collaboration with the Dolan DNA Learning Center (DNALC), I developed a program for girls to learn about science from female scientists. After a day of the DNALC’s traditional activities, the girls spent the afternoon being taught by female scientists from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL). Each scientist chose a topic related to the camp program and found new and exciting ways to supplementwhat the girls had learned earlier in the day. This not only created a fantastic environment for education, but also provided them with female mentors who they were able to talk to and ask questions.

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Each day focused on different aspects of science. On the first day, the girls watched and discussed an educational video on cell division. Then we helped reinforce these concepts through Bollywood dancing. The process of cell division involves a number of steps (i.e. interphase, prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase) which Irene and I created steps and moves to reenact.  We split the girls up into groups of chromosomes (and kinetochores) with ribbons representing the spindle fibers (which form a protein structure that divides the genetic material in a cell). Most of the girls had never heard about cell division before and this was a great way to help them learn the process.

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On the second day, Judy created a slide show to teach the girls about her experience at NASA. During her talk, we learned about neutrinos and their properties; astronomy and the life cycle of a star; dark matter; and SOFIA (a NASA telescope built into a Boeing airplane, which is the world’s largest and most sensitive airborne observatory). Her enthusiasm and passion for astrophysics sparked so many of the girls curiosities and the questions were endless.

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The third day, Ally and Carolina tackled immunity and vaccination. They put together a PowerPoint to walk the girls through the history of vaccines, starting with the story of the first vaccine created by Edward Jenner (for smallpox). They went on to discuss the controversy of vaccines and how the paper by Dr. Andrew Wakefield claiming vaccines caused autism was retracted because there was no scientific evidence to support his claim. 

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After showing an interactive video explaining how disease spreads and how vaccines prevent this spread, we used an acid-base herd immunity game to reinforce the lesson. We used test tubes to represent non-vaccinated, vaccinated, and disease spreaders. We had the girls “swap liquid” between each other’s test tubes. Due to acid-base reactions, the liquid changed color based on who was immune to the “disease” and who got the “disease.” We kept track of who was spreading the “disease” and discussed the game’s results. 

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Day four, Sarah, Kaitlin, and Brianna talked to the girls about CRISPR gene-editing. They showed a video that explains what CRISPR is, how it is used to edit genes, and the ethics behind gene editing. Post video, they opened the floor for discussion and asked the girls what they would wish to use CRISPR for. Then, they discussed if their wishes could be feasible, and, if so, what some of the drawbacks could be.

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On the last day of the camp, the parents went on a tour of the lab and attended presentations by the girls about what they had learned during the week. It was such an incredible experience and I cannot wait to plan more events like this in the future.

Alexandra Ambrico