University of Rochester

Scientists go Back to School to Change Attitudes About Science

December 3, 1996

Dozens of researchers from the University of Rochester have embarked on a community outreach program that sends scientists to schools in the Rochester City School District each week to break students' stereotypes about science and scientists.

Every Friday morning, a pair of University scientists -- one male and one female -- visits a different elementary or middle school in the city. The scientists hope to visit 25 city schools during the 1996-97 school year.

"We want to get students excited about science by doing hands-on experiments with them and answering questions about what scientists do in real life," says program coordinator Debbie Shannon of the University's National Science Foundation Center for Photoinduced Charge Transfer.

Among the "experiments" that the students like best are making brightly colored slime and exploding chunks of sodium in water. The budding scientists also watch balloons shrink after being stuffed into a container of liquid nitrogen and then expand again as the liquid nitrogen is poured onto the floor, forming a dense fog. They are encouraged to work like scientists, proposing and testing theories on why the experiments work as they do.

"The kids had a great time, and so did I," says Lewis Rothberg, a chemistry professor who went back to elementary school earlier this fall. "We break a lot of stereotypes about scientists by answering the students' serious and goofy questions about what it's really like to be a scientist."