Gummy-bear fun offers a taste of science, engineering for girls
The conference at Seattle University encourages middle-school girls to explore science and engineering careers.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Perhaps they could get a job with Sound Transit.
The three-girl team spent just 25 "sweeties" to send their 10 gummy bears on a 24-foot adventure down a suspended fishing line.
Their design of a "mass transit system" for their thumbnail-size gummy riders was a huge success.
And no one minded if they ate some of the passengers.
"We just thought of it," said Gwen Hildebrandt, 12, a student at Islander Middle School on Mercer Island, of their successful design. "I don't think eating them affected the decision at all."
The exercise was "Gummy Bear Engineering," one of 42 sessions offered in a hands-on conference for middle-school girls from around the state, sponsored by Seattle Expanding Your Horizons.
On Saturday, 410 girls attended classes at Seattle University put on by scientists — biologists, botanists, engineers and veterinarians — from around the area.
Hildebrandt and fellow transit engineers Chloe LeComp, from St. John School in Seattle, and Eleanor Williams, from Portland, placed their gummy bears in a paper bag, leaving a window for them. The girls attached the bag to a straw threaded on the fishing line, and taped an inflated balloon to the back. When they released the balloon, the bag sailed down the line to what, at the time, was a record 24 feet.
That drew praise from Mary Margaret Callahan, with the Northwest Girls Coalition, who was leading the exercise. "This was an elegant and simple design. That's what I really like," she said.
Part of the exercise was to keep track of the design costs in the gummy-bear currency of sweeties. The balloon, for instance, cost 15 sweeties, the straw nine. (One crew spent 92 sweeties on their design, said Callahan.)
The conference, which was to encourage girls to explore the world of math, science and computer technology, comes at a time when national studies show women make up 50 percent of the work force in the U.S. but represent only 25 percent of workers in science and engineering fields.
What's more, science and engineering jobs are expected to grow twice as fast as other jobs by 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Among the classes Saturday, the girls learned how to create computer animations, investigate the DNA of dolphins and whales, and dissect a computer. They found out about how and why tsunamis occur.
In another class, a white rat crawled down the arm of Austin Hanger, 12, from Cedar River Middle School in Renton. She named him Bob — not that that was part of the assignment, but she just thought he needed a name.
She hopes to be a veterinarian someday and has two cats, a dog and a bunny — and soon, she hopes, a pet rat. "My parents probably won't go for that."
She was in "A Rat's Tale," a class that taught the students how rats are used in research. Led by Cynthia Pekow, from the VA Medical Center, the girls learned how to tell if their rats were healthy. They listened to their hearts and discovered how to recognize differences in behavior.
"I learned a lot about the behavior of rats," said Hanger. "What they look like when they're sick, when they're healthy."
In another building on the Seattle University campus, veterinarians Sherrie Crow and Bridie O'Connor, from Elliott Bay Animal Hospital, led a session for aspiring veterinarians in how to care for animals.
Among the day's tasks was learning how to suture a chicken wing (from the grocery store).
Seattle students Elizabeth Dunigan, 11, from St. Joseph School, and Grace Clumpner, 12, from Lady of the Lake School, both said they want to be vets.
For Clumpner, it might seem a lot like living at her family's place — where there are two dogs, a cat, two hamsters, fish, birds and a horse. And she once had a chicken.
"I'm just interested in animals," she said, concentrating on stitching up her chicken wing.
The conference has been held for 22 years in Seattle, and several of the volunteers were former students in the program.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or email@example.com
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