A Field Trip to Two Labs

The sounds of engaged--and at times even awed and delighted--young students enlivened laboratories at GW’s Milken Institute School of Public Health earlier this month.  The GW faculty and graduate students hosting the event were given free rein to create activities to engage kids between the ages of 5 and 8, and their efforts were a smash hit. 

The 21 lower elementary students from Ms Camille Russell’s class at the Aidan Montessori School in Washington, DC took the Metro to get to Foggy Bottom and swapped their outerwear for lab coats soon after arriving at GW.  Once attired for the lab, they were more than ready to begin their tour of EOH Professor and Department Chair Melissa Perry’s lab and the Milken Institute SPH’s Exercise and Physiology lab. 

Microscopes and water.  One of many attractions at Dr. Perry’s lab was a moving microbe in a sample of Potomac River water that Environmental Health Science and Policy MPH Student Nicholas Porter collected on his way into the lab that morning.  He helped the young visitors view it using a microscope.  “That is so weird,” “cool,” and “awesome” were typical comments from the young scientists who spotted it. 

“This is why we don’t drink water right out of the river,” pointed out Global Environmental Health MPH Student Linda Nguyen, who was stationed next to Porter. She helped students use a microscope to view one of the fruit flies that serve as subjects for so many scientific experiments, especially ones involving genetics. Her visitors were both impressed and a bit repulsed by the flies’ compound eyes and the hairiness of their legs. 


EOH DrPH Student Fran Branch demonstrated a simple, inexpensive and effective way to clean water by pouring it into a filter made from a recycled soda bottle filled with small rocks and sand.  Larger versions, also known as “biosand filters,” are capable of filtering out up to 99% of microbes from water so that chlorine isn’t necessarily needed to render water safe for drinking, she told students—and their parents.  Students were astonished to see that the dirty water added to the soda bottle filter came out clear, Branch says.   

Smoke.  Biostatistics MPH Student Matt Shupler told his visitors about how some cooking stoves can generate potentially harmful smoke. “In some countries, they don’t have electricity or gas for their stoves so they use wood to make fires.  It’s in the house so the smoke can go into people’s lungs,” he explained.  “It’s almost like smoking,” a student observed. Shupler agreed, and told the students about cleaner-burning stoves GW is helping test. He showed them how filters can be used to sample the smoke and how the particulates collected on the filter can be measured using a microbalance. 

Human anatomy.  Exercise Science MS Students Saee Khandagale, Brandie Huffman, and Rebecca Switzer were impressed by the students’ familiarity with anatomy during their visit to the Exercise and Nutrition Science department’s lab facilities. The three GW graduate assistants helped the youngsters take apart a life-sized anatomy dummy and were amazed by how quickly their visitors were able to reassemble it, as well as a skeleton replica! Khandagale also showed the students how to locate and listen to both their own hearts and those of some of their friends with a stethoscope. 

VO2 max.  Exercise Science Graduate Assistants Paul Moquin and Lauren Beckley looked like cyborgs and got intense workouts while they demonstrated GW’s equipment for measuring the maximum amount of oxygen that a person can utilize during intense or maximal exercise, AKA VO2 max.  The Aidan visitors threw themselves into urging on their demonstrators!  Many of the young students also expressed hopes that they would one day be able to put on one of those tough-looking masks to test their endurance. 

“I’m really proud of how the EOH and Exercise Science students took on the opportunity to find a way to make science fun for our young lab visitors,” Dr. Perry said. “Their passion for what they do showed in the activities they set up for the children.  Everyone’s efforts contributed to making the event an astounding success.”