Kids get first taste of science

LYNNWOOD — Through plastic safety glasses, Kevin Lo, 12, stared into a vial containing cloudy liquid — what started out as a mouthful of his own spit — and a small mass of strange, white tendrils, twisting and spiraling upward from the murk.

“It looks like an alien planet,” Kevin said.

In fact, it was his own DNA.

The sixth-grader at Martha Lake Elementary School was among the first wave of students to be paid a visit from the Science Adventure Lab, a custom-built 45-foot bus equipped by Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

Students from various classes at the school earlier this month got to use micropipettes, heat blocks, reagents and other tools of the medical trade to isolate DNA from their cheek cells, among other lessons.

“This is not Playskool science,” said Dr. Amanda Jones, a microbiologist with the Research Institute who heads the Science Adventure Lab program and leads the classes. “This looks just like one of the labs in our research institute. It’s the same stuff that I have in my lab.”

That includes the hot pink and fluorescent orange test tube racks. (“Scientists love colors,” Jones said.)

The mobile lab was the brainchild of Dr. James B. Hendricks, president of Seattle Children’s Research Institute, according to Jones. Hendricks headed a similar effort, with a vaccination bus, in New Orleans.

Such mobile science labs are a growing trend. The Seattle bus is the latest in a fleet of about 20 nationwide, according to the Mobile Laboratory Coalition in Boston.

Seattle Children’s bus is the first on the West Coast, organizers say, and is the only mobile lab connected to a children’s hospital.

Teachers and principals requested visits ahead of time, and slots filled quickly. The lab will have taught more than 1,000 school children by the end of this month alone. The calendar also includes a stop in December at Briercrest Elementary School in Shoreline. In all, the bus is scheduled to visit 5,000 kids from 200 classes statewide in its inaugural school year.

“People are seeing that it’s more cost effective in the long run to put together these mobile labs,” Jones said.

Most schools don’t have the resources to upgrade their science equipment, and the mobile lab allows students to do experiments “that they otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do,” Jones said.

“We hope they see science is fun and achievable — something they can do, that it’s not something only a few select people understand but that is a part of everybody’s life,” she said.

The mobile lab targets students in the fourth through eighth grades with medical, health and nutrition topics. Besides the class on understanding and isolating DNA, the lab also includes lessons on chemistry, DNA fingerprinting and understanding respiratory function. Students use gel electrophoresis, perform biochemical assays and measure heart rates with pulse oximeters.

By getting young children to perform real science experiments, the hope is that more kids will see science careers as a goal — or at least be less intimidated as they face more advanced topics in high school and college.

“Kids have a natural curiosity, and you just need to cultivate that,” Jones said.

“There’s also the ‘wow’ factor,” she added.

And there were plenty of “wows,” “whoas” and, of course, “ewws” at last week’s DNA class.

As with any serious endeavor aimed at tweens, the class came with some unusual rules.

“Don’t shake the tube. You’ll hurt your DNA,” and, “You do not get to drink it. This is a science lab.”

It also came with creative definitions for complicated terms. Take lysis, for instance, the process of dissolving cells. “How about we blow them up?” Jones asked the students, to smiles.

Yet the class also sparked wide-eyed discussion.

“Is cloning — can you actually do it? Can you make a copy of a person?” wondered Dong Kim, 11.

The students bubbled with excitement as they left the bus, parked between the playground and the school, to file back to class.

“It was really fun when we got to see our DNA floating around in a tube,” said Kateka Seth, 11, who wants to be a surgeon when she grows up.

The lesson also fueled Amina Donahoe’s interest in science. “When you’re actually doing the experiments, it feels different,” the 11-year-old said.

Talk to us

More in Local News

A 1.2-mile stretch of 236th Street NE near Arlington will be fully closed May 31 through Sept. 2 for a road project. (Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians)
Months-long closure ahead for 236th Street NE near Arlington

The Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians is widening lanes, adding a separated shared path and improving wildlife crossings.

Nate Nehring (left) and Sam Low.
Snohomish County’s LGBTQ Pride proclamation gets no GOP support

Councilmember Nate Nehring said it would violate his “personal conscience” by “celebrating particular lifestyles.”

Denny’s employee hospitalized after shooting south of Everett

A group of people was asked to leave. Someone fired a gun. A suspect was arrested.

2 teens arrested after Everett shooting, 100 mph chase

A young man was shot in the leg at an apartment near Voyager Middle School, where kids were being released for the day.

Pair identified in apparent murder-suicide in Everett

Police believe a man killed a woman, then himself. No arrests were made. No suspects were believed to be at large.

Law enforcement stand guard at the front driveway to Cascade High School as multiple agencies attempt to track down a suspect who reportedly had a firearm near campus Friday, May 27, 2022, in Everett, Washington. Dozens of concerned family members arrived to the school and stood along Casino Road waiting to find out what was happening. An airsoft pistol was recovered during a security sweep. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Apparent threat at Cascade High turned out to be airsoft gun

Two Everett schools went into lockdown Friday as police conducted security sweeps of their campuses.

Hydraulic fluid from a Waste Management garbage truck damaged roads in Mountlake Terrace June 23, 2021. The company hired crews to put absorbent material on the fluid and swept it, but several areas need to be repaired this year. (Mountlake Terrace)
Truck leak prompts 2 miles of road work in Mountlake Terrace

About 50 gallons of hydraulic fluid spilled from a Waste Management garbage truck last June.

Homicide suspect arrested in separate murder-for-hire sting

New court papers connect Selvin Rosales-Sevilla, of Mountlake Terrace, to the killing of Kevin Nieto Mejia at Ebey Island.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Bird flu comes to Snohomish County, via backyard flock

Where exactly was not immediately released. But flock owners should be vigilant to prevent further spread of the virus.

Most Read