The white lab coats may have been a bit baggy and the safety goggles slightly loose, but that didn’t stop 36 Putnam City School District students from learning about science at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation this week.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, OMRF hosted the 32nd annual installment of Putnam City Junior Scientist Days. The event gives elementary, middle school and high school students the chance for an up-close-and-personal look at biomedical science. It is also OMRF’s way of saying thank you to some of the state’s youngest and most generous philanthropists.
Since 1975, students from the Putnam City School District have raised more than $2.4 million to support cancer research at OMRF. That total—which includes $122,000 raised in this past school year alone—comes from the annual district-wide Cancer Drive, bake sales, car washes and dozens of other student fund-raising events.
“This is a remarkable commitment from a remarkable group of young people,” said Penny Voss, OMRF’s vice president of development. “We couldn’t ask for better teammates in the fight against cancer.”
Whether it was sequencing DNA, learning to pipette or examining tiny organisms through high-powered microscopes, the students made the most of their time in OMRF laboratories on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Jacob Salamy, who attends D.D. Kirkland Elementary, was able to study cells in blood samples during his visit to OMRF’s clinical pharmacology department. “I feel glad that I’m a part of something here,” he said. “My little sister has cancer, so I am very supportive of the research.” Salamy has helped raise money for OMRF through events at his school, including basket auctions and paying to wear a baseball cap on certain school days.
“Putnam City’s relationship with OMRF has greatly benefited both organizations. In raising funds for cancer research, students learn and take to heart the message that they can make a difference in the world,” said Putnam City Superintendent Jim Capps, Ph.D. “On Junior Scientist Day, students get an exciting opportunity to enter the world of science and talk one-on-one with researchers. It’s very rewarding.”
The students even had the chance to use some of the scientific equipment they helped OMRF obtain. Putnam City’s gifts to OMRF have purchased a variety of sophisticated laboratory equipment at OMRF, including high-powered microscopes, centrifuges and incubators. The students’ efforts also have established the Putnam City Schools Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research, which is held by OMRF scientist Linda Thompson, Ph.D.
“These young people have helped our scientists make important inroads against a deadly disease,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “Having the Putnam City students here is a high point for us each year, and it might just be the catalyst that inspires one of them to choose a career in research.”
Chartered in 1946, OMRF (www.omrf.org) is one of the nation’s oldest, most respected biomedical research institutes. Dedicated to understanding and curing human disease, the nonprofit institute focuses on such critical research areas as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, lupus and cardiovascular disease. It is home to Oklahoma’s only member of the National Academy of Sciences.