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Lab Partners

Lab Partners

Using mobile programs and its innovative laboratory, Students 2 Science is on a mission to inspire young people to pursue life science careers

At the Hackensack University Medical Center’s pediatric oncology unit, a group of young patients recently gathered in the learning center for an interactive science experiment called “CO2 to the Rescue.” After being told that in the United States alone $5 billion worth of cellphones were destroyed by water damage over the past five years, the participants were challenged to create an invention to prevent cellphones from sinking. The group experimented with different combinations of scoops of acids and baking soda to create the ideal acid-base reaction that would inflate a Mylar balloon and, in turn, keep a cellphone afloat. While the students in the learning center donned lab coats and goggles, other patients, using camera-equipped laptops, participated virtually from their hospital rooms.

The program is run by Students 2 Science, a New Jersey nonprofit that introduces science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to young students in the hope of inspiring their interest in STEM-related careers. When the group isn’t traveling to hospitals, education centers and Boys & Girls Clubs of America, they’re welcoming students into their own 10,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art laboratory in East Hanover. “You can’t just leave it up to episodes of NCIS and school lesson plans to motivate kids to pursue careers in science,” says Paul Winslow, cofounder and president of Students 2 Science. “You have to bring the learning experience to life and leave a strong impression.”

Today, some 5,000 students participate in the program each year, with 65% coming from underserved, impoverished communities. “We teach by presenting the students with challenges that are career-oriented and equip them with the tools to solve them. In the end, we hope to hear, ‘I can do this, I would like to be a scientist,’” Winslow says.

Offering experiments on everything from forensics to food science, the program is all hands-on and incorporates modern instrumentation. Professional scientists from major corporations, including Bristol-Myers Squibb, Daiichi Sankyo, Merck and Novartis, volunteer their time and work alongside students. “The partnership is really a win-win for everybody,” Winslow explains. “Corporations need the next generation of skilled workers and students need to be prepared or at least aware of the types of life science jobs that exist and may be available.”

The experiments are available in more than 150 different languages, including sign language, and will roll out to seven states next year, including Florida, North Carolina and Georgia. In addition, Students 2 Science has created another program focused on educating science teachers by offering lab kits, videos and lesson plans to empower them to run experiments on their own.

Beginning in the 2016–2017 school year, Students 2 Science will also launch a collection of experiments specifically focused on biotechnology. This series will feature labs on generating biofuels from various agricultural sources, studying diabetes and detecting hidden sugars in processed foods, and identifying genetically modified food by extracting its DNA and analyzing the gene sequence.

“We’re striving to educate the next generation of biotech leaders,” Winslow says. “Hopefully, for some individuals, that seed of interest will begin in our laboratory.”

Illustration by Greg Betza

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