Summer camp with the DNA Learning Center

2019

Cassidy Danyko, Chair of WiSE Outreach

This August, WiSE Outreach hosted the 3rd Annual WiSE Fun with DNA Camp in collaboration with the Dolan DNA Learning Center (DNALC). WiSE Fun with DNA stands out from the other DNALC’s camps by being reserved exclusively for girls and taking place in a real laboratory at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory main campus. An exciting addition to this year’s camp was the introduction of our scholarship program designed to cover tuition costs for two students from underrepresented minority populations and underserved areas. WiSE Outreach Co-Chairs, Cassidy Danyko and Lyndsey Aguirre, teamed up with the Amityville School District, where science teachers from the Park Avenue Elementary School nominated scientifically motivated students to apply for the scholarship. This scholarship program welcomed two bright future scientists to our campus, and provided them with an exciting and immersive summer experience that they otherwise might not have had an opportunity to participate in. We look forward to expanding the scholarship program next year.

2019 Camp Activities:
After traditional DNALC Fun with DNA camp classes during the day, including building a model cell, extracting DNA from bananas, creating a model DNA molecule, and examining mutant organisms under a microscope, the 22 girls joined WiSE to end the days with special WiSE-curated activities. This year’s activities included topics of plant biology, neuroscience, data science, and protein structure.

Plant Biology Day was led by CSHL graduate student and WiSE Outreach Co-Chair Lyndsey Aguirre who brought the girls to the CSHL Uplands Farm where they were introduced to the work of former CSHL scientist and Nobel Laureate Barbara McClintock. Farm director, Tim Mulligan, gave the girls a tour of the greenhouses where the model organisms used by the CSHL plant department, including Arabidopsis, corn, ground cherry, and tomato, are grown. Tim ended his tour with a short talk about how climate change is impacting agriculture and the importance of sustainable farming practices before the girls were sent home with living jewelry (seeds in growth media) to try out their newfound green thumbs!

Up next was Neuroscience Day, where the girls rotated through 3 neuroscience activities. They examined real preserved brains to learn about the anatomy and functions of different regions. To learn about neuron structure and function, the girls constructed pipe cleaner neuron models with myelin sheath beads. They also had the chance to use Backyard Brains equipment that allowed the students to control a claw with their own muscle contractions to pick up a ball as an example of neuroprosthesis.

On day three, Olivia Mendivil Ramos, PhD, introduced an exciting new component to our camp with an activity centered around data science. Olivia walked the girls through some math to show them just how big some datasets can be, drawing parallels to the number of stars in the universe. She then guided the girls through a BLAST algorithm game. The campers were challenged to search for a single gene in a bag full of hundreds of other genes. As girls chanted “BLAST! BLAST! BLAST!”, they raced to find their target gene. Olivia then showed them how quickly computers can automate the process. The campers walked away with a better grasp on what “sequencing data” really means and it was a fun way to introduce them to the world of big data.

Another exciting addition to this year’s camp was a protein day led WiSE Social Media Chair and CSHL graduate student Brianna Bibel, or better known as The Bumbling Biochemist. The campers toured Bri’s lab and learned about the different equipment used to study proteins, including a close look at the Cryo-EM machine guided by fellow graduate student Katie Meze. Bri then led them through an activity where the campers built their own paper model GFP proteins, emphasizing the primary, secondary, and tertiary structures of proteins.

The camp concluded with Parent Participation Day, which included a tour of campus and a science fair where the girls taught their parents what they learned. Throughout the week, the campers thrived in the unique learning environment we created, engaging in activities with excitement. Our WiSE volunteers were not only helpful in teaching activities, but also inspired the girls to ask questions and be curious. They were great role models for the girls and we are very thankful for their support and willingness to be mentors. A big thank you to: Amanda McBrien, Cassidy Danyko, Lyndsey Aguirre, Jennifer Galasso, Ally Nowlan, Tim Mulligan, Dani Ciren, Sophia Zebell, Bruno Gegenhuber, Sara Boyle, Marie Dussuaze, Olivia Mendivil Ramos, Sarah Park, Briana Bibel, Katie Meze, Dennis Thomas, Tzvia Pinkhasov, Kelly Hills-Muckey.

2018

Cassidy Danyko, Chair of WiSE Outreach

At the end of August, WiSE Outreach hosted the 2nd Annual WiSE Fun with DNA Camp with the Dolan DNA Learning Center (DNALC).  This is the only DNALC camp for girls only and is the only camp to take place at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory main campus in a real laboratory.  After traditional DNALC Fun with DNA camp classes during the day, including building a cell model, extracting DNA from bananas and spit, creating a model DNA molecule, and examining mutant organisms under a microscope, the 20 girls joined WiSE to end the days with special WiSE-led activities.

On the first day, CSHL graduate student Judy Mizrachi got the girls excited about astrophysics.  She discussed the interesting research she did with NASA on special particles called neutrinos. She explained the life cycle of a star and showed the girls SOFIA, the largest, most sensitive observatory on an airplane.  The girls were fascinated by Judy’s very unique astrophysics experiences and had many questions for her regarding dark matter and black holes.

Plant Day was next as the girls toured the CSHL Uplands Farm with Farm director Tim Mulligan. The girls were first introduced to the work of former CSHL scientist and Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock, including her work with transposable elements in maize. Though it was a bit hot to tour the greenhouses, the girls were still given a taste of the organisms used by the CSHL plant department, including Arabidopsis, duckweed, corn, and sorghum. Tim ended his tour with a short talk about how climate change is impacting agriculture and the importance of sustainable farming practices before the girls were sent home with potted bean seeds to try out their newfound green thumbs! 

 

On Wednesday, WiSE President Ally Nowlan tackled immunity and vaccinations. After an interactive discussion about how vaccines were first discovered, and how false claims about the MMR vaccines link to autism have led to an increase of Measles cases, the girls used basic chemistry to apply their understanding of herd immunity to simulate the spread of a contagious disease. Each student was given a solution that contained either water (representing a healthy but unvaccinated individual), a buffer (“vaccinated”), or a base (“infected”) and they went around the class swapping their solutions a few times. When we revealed whether they had been infected using a pH test, we saw that when only 10% of the population is vaccinated, a disease can spread quite easily. When we vaccinated a greater percentage of the population, the spread of the diseases was dramatically reduced, thus exemplifying the power of herd immunity.

For the last activity, the girls rotated through 3 neuroscience activities.  At one station, the girls examined real preserved brains. They checked out the anatomy, felt the grooves, and were taught the different regions and their functions.  The other two stations used Backyard Brains equipment. The girls used electrodes on muscles to convert the energy to sound that they could control with contractions and relaxations of the muscles in their arm.  The favorite station of the day allowed the girls to control a claw with their own contractions to pick up a ball as an example of neuroprosthesis.

The camp ended with parent day, which included a tour of campus and a mini science fair.  The girls showed their parents the activities they worked on during the week and everyone got a chance to check out the beautiful CSHL campus. Thanks to our tour guides Tzvia Pinkhasov and Diogo Maia e Silva! The second year of our all-girls camp was another success. The girls thrived in the unique learning environment we created, engaging in activities with excitement.  Our 12 WiSE volunteers were not only helpful in teaching the activities, but also inspired the girls to ask questions and be curious. Our volunteers were great role models for the girls and we are very thankful for their support and willingness to be mentors.  We look forward to next year’s camp, which we hope to provide a handful of scholarships for so we can reach out to those who wouldn’t normally have the chance to experience such an inspiring program.  

2017

August 28 – September 1, 2017 WiSE partnered with the Dolan DNA Learning Center to host a WiSE Fun with DNA summer camp. Created by WiSE Vice President Alexandra Ambrico, the program offered an chance 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 supplement what 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. Through fun activities such as a DNA replication Bollywood dance and an acid-base “vaccination game,” the girls learned about topics ranging from CRISPR to NASA. The camp was a great success and we hope to make it a yearly event. You can read more about this inaugural session in a blog piece by Alexandra: https://www.sa-sha.org/science/2017/9/5/wise-fun-with-dna.

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