Science Alive reintroduces the inner child to local scientists

Author: Gail Mancini

Posted in the South Bend Tribune on Saturday, January 25, 2014

Let’s call it “The Day the Scientists Come Out to Play.”

Saturday is the 22nd annual Science Alive at the St. Joseph County Public Library.

To the delight of what has become a crowd as large as 4,000, community professionals dedicated to the sciences will present stage shows and hands-on interactive exhibits. All four floors of the library will be stuffed to the rafters, says Linda Conyers, main branch coordinator and chair of Science Alive 2014.

Over its two-decade history, the area’s higher education institutions have consistently provided a rich array of activities. Indiana University South Bend (IUSB) and the IU School of Medicine-South Bend (IUSM-SB) are joined by students from Indiana Vocational Technical College. University of Notre Dame presentations come from several areas of the institution and include psychology, engineering, astrophysics and energy sciences. All told, children will be able to learn about science, technology and engineering from A (astronomy) to Z (zoology).

Science Alive targets children in kindergarten through eighth grade in an effort to inspire them with a lasting love of science. The event was initiated by the late library board member Caeser Stravinski. An engineer, he “was very concerned about America seeming to fall in the international scope in terms of science. He wanted us to do our part to encourage young people to become involved in science, technology and engineering,” says Conyers. She took the helm two years ago from librarian Rebecca Bahu, who managed the event for 20 years.

Do the children love it? Conyers remembers one little boy who would plan his birthday around the event. “His parents would bring him and some friends to Science Alive to celebrate his birthday.”

But the exhibitors seem to have just as much fun as the children.

“My favorite part about participating in Science Alive was to see the excitement and smiles on the faces of the kids who walked through our booth,” says third-year student Michelle Kerr, who volunteered in 2013 with about two dozen of her colleagues. “Bringing the science of medicine alive to the level of the young kids reinforced, to me, that medicine is truly a beautiful blend of science and art and I was living out my passion in life.”

Her colleague Rachel Macias explains the attraction to medical students. “Volunteering was a huge part of my life before medical school and (I) wanted to continue to serve during medical school,” she says. “Science Alive was a great combination of many things I enjoy — science, medicine, children, education and volunteer work.”

Medical students have participated for at least a decade with various activities. In one, children use stethoscopes to identify their heart rate. Then they jump rope or do jumping jacks for a minute, and check their heart rate again. “The medical student explains that the heart is a muscle that also must be exercised just like your arms or legs,” said Stacey Jackson, regional director of medical education who coordinates IUSM-SB’s presence at Science Alive. She and the students also create a sanitation station, and a place where students can dress up like doctors.

There are quite a few presentations planned that college, graduate and medical students might still enjoy. How about petting a boa constrictor? Amazon John from Silly Safaris, the leading provider of live animal conservation education in Indiana, plans to bring one. A local farm will bring chickens. Robot demonstrations are planned, as is a presentation on the weather.

This year’s event will feature a Passport, says Conyers. Each child will collect stamps from exhibits they visit. Those who get up to eight will qualify for a prize. Although Conyers was still collecting prizes, a youth science camp summer experience was already among them.

With a 22-year history, there should be parents who attended who now are bringing their own children. How many, over the years, went into the sciences as a profession? Conyers would like to hear from you if you have.

Gail Hinchion Mancini is director of Public Affairs and Communications at Indiana University School of Medicine-South Bend.