Caught in the act! STEM fun at the science fair!

Last weekend some fellow students and I volunteered at the Boston Public Schools city-wide science fair. The air in Cabot gym was thick with scientific inquiry as  350 middle and high school students set up their presentations. In addition to the students, many local STEM organizations were also invited to the event, to engage the budding scientists and their families, when they took a break from presenting their own research. So naturally, we brought some live critters and neat shells from the MSC and set up touch tanks to educate participants about their local marine flora and fauna.
Chris and Mariah dazzle students with fun facts about lobsters, crabs and snails!
Chris and Mariah dazzle students with fun facts about lobsters, crabs and snails!

Our table was definitely a hit, especially due to our star performer, one of the blue lobsters that we have at the MSC. Children and adults alike were amazed to see such a colorful creature, and were very curious how he got to be this color? We explained that all lobsters create many different pigments that give them their normal red/black/brownish shell color, and that blue lobsters have a mutation in their DNA that causes them to overexpress a certain blue pigment, causing their entire shell to be blue. These blue lobsters are very rare, about 1 in 2 million Homarus americanus lobsters are blue according to an informative ebook published by lobsterinstitute.org about these peculiarly pigmented arthropods. So we were particularly lucky when a lobsterman donated two of these spectacular specimens to the MSC outreach program. Our critters even impressed the reporters covering the event and we were featured in the Northeastern News article covering the fair.

Some of the other STEM organizations that volunteered were pretty captivating also. An engineer next to us challenged students to build a tower out of spaghetti using only one piece of tape! There were some pretty impressive structures, considering the limiting materials. It was great to network with other organizations around Boston with a passion for promoting STEM education. One organization I was particularly excited to learn about is a group started by Harvard graduate students called the Journal of Emerging Investigators. They work with middle and high school students to take their science fair or other projects a bit further, by actually publishing the work in an online journal. They help students to write up their work in real scientific journal format, and even have a panel of volunteers to peer review the manuscripts. I think introducing students to the publication process so early is a great idea, and a great way for them to create something bigger out of their school projects. So if you know any students who want to take their research further, definitely check out the journal’s website.

Overall it was a great event and reminded me how one of my favorite parts of being a graduate student is all the fun extracurricular activities in which we get to participate!

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