University of Delaware
Kelvin Lee, director of the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, welcomes attendees.

Small changes, big effects

Delaware Biotechnology Institute stimulates science interest in Sussex County

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4:41 p.m., April 2, 2015--The Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI), in partnership with the Sussex County Science Fair Committee, hosted a Family Science Night on Monday, March 30, at Beacon Middle School in Lewes, Delaware. 

The event, part of DBI's Science for All Delawareans initiative aimed to increase interest in middle school students in science, was judged an overwhelming success. More than 300 students, parents, teachers, public officials, and members of the media engaged in hands-on science activities to draw focus on the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) training and jobs to the community.

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The Family Science Night began with Kelvin Lee, DBI director and Gore Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Delaware, welcoming the attendees and introducing State Sen. Ernie Lopez. Lopez thanked everyone for making time to participate, especially the parents. “My wife asked me where I was going to be this evening and I told her I was going to be at DBI’s Family Science Night with our community of students, parents and teachers,” he said. 

Other participants included State Rep. Ruth Briggs King and Tonyea Mead, science education associate, Delaware Department of Education.

Lee said, “Studies indicate there is a significant drop-off in student interest in science during the middle school years” and added that "while we feel we've done a great job of bringing students to DBI, we've been looking for ways to make our science outreach activities more accessible to everyone in Sussex County and we are so excited to see their enthusiastic turnout."

The hands-on activities focused on human health, agriculture and the environment, which are three main research pillars of DBI. The experiments formed part of a theme used by the Science for All Delawareans initiative related to small changes that can have big effects. 

Activities were developed by graduate students associated with UD's Systems Biology of Cells in Engineered Environments National Science Foundation-funded Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) doctoral training program. Different classrooms were used to host various activities led by IGERT students, University Ph.D. student volunteers and Beacon Middle School teachers. 

Students and their parents made hydrogels and learned about the importance of these materials for human health. An oyster demonstration taught them about how these species keep oceans clean and a “draw your own chicken” activity exposed the children to the idea of hereditary traits and genetic diversity. 

There was also a food activity involving glow in the dark yeast that introduced participants to the concept of fermentation. This last activity was paired with free pizza for all participants as well as demonstrations from LEGO League from Delaware State University (DSU), led by Eric Cheeks, associate vice president, Continuing Education and Summer Programs, at DSU.

Leading the planning was Katie Lakofsky from DBI. “We could not have done this without the help of so many who committed their time, passion, and knowledge,” Lakofsky said, adding, “This event would not have been possible without the help and support of our IGERT students, Ph.D. students, countless volunteers, teachers at Beacon Middle School and members of the Sussex County Science Fair Committee.” 

Jagruti Patel, committee member, Sussex County Science Fair, shared that “events such as the Family Science Night are a great way to pull our local community together and bolster awareness of the Annual Sussex County Science Fair.” 

Moreover, she added, “The Delaware Biotechnology Institute is a valuable vehicle to deliver STEM education modules which engage students, parents and teachers alike.”

About Delaware Biotechnology Institute:

The Delaware Biotechnology Institute is a partnership among government, academia and industry to help establish the First State as a center of excellence in biotechnology and the life sciences. 

DBI promotes research, education and technology transfer for biotechnology applications to the benefit of the environment, agriculture and human health.

Article by Alok Patel

Photos by DBI staff

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