Magen Eissenstat didn’t know exactly what to expect when she came to OMRF, but she was pleasantly surprised.
“It was way more fun than I had pictured it,” the eighth grader at Hefner Middle School said. “I kind of thought it would be a bunch of old people, but it was really fun.”
Magen is one of 31 students who took part in the 2009 Putnam City Junior Scientist Days at OMRF–an event that gives elementary, middle and high school students a chance to do more than study science in a classroom.
For 34 years, OMRF has opened its doors to students from the school district to thank them for their tireless and generous efforts at fund-raising for medical research. Since 1975, students from the Putnam City School District have raised about $2.8 million to support cancer research at the foundation.
And in exchange for all their hard work?
“We got to go to a lab and transfer these tiny worms into dishes, so we could clone them,” said Putnam City High School senior Lindsey Berger. “I think it’s so interesting that we use worms to study the human genome.”
Students who get to participate in the program are chosen by teachers as those who show the most interest and promise in science.
“Science is my favorite subject,” said Wiley Post Elementary fifth grader Harper Harris, 11. “We worked with Dr. [Tim] Griffin and tested our nerves and then we tested how sensitive a mouse is to touch. It was cool to know we have something in common.”
Griffin, an OMRF researcher who studies arthritis, said his interest in science came later in his life. “So I relish the opportunity to get students hooked on scientific research at a younger age.”
Eleven-year-old Asia Boswell spent her time in OMRF’s Cardiovascular Biology Research Program. “We graphed proteins, which can tell you about how white blood cells are acting,” she said. “This is the kind of stuff I’d like to do when I grow up.”
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.
“I can hardly imagine a better example of a mutually beneficial partnership than the long relationship between the Putnam City Schools and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation,” says Putnam City Superintendent Paul Hurst. “Our students learn about citizenship, giving and—most of all—science, and OMRF receives funding to continue their cutting-edge cancer research. Whether it’s visiting OMRF researchers in their labs or raising funds for cancer research in their own schools, our students are thrilled and proud to be a part of the discoveries of tomorrow.”
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.
“They may not understand it yet, but these students have made a tangible contribution to research that will make lives better,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “There is a real excitement in the air when Putnam City Junior Scientist Days come each year, because of researchers are so happy to share their work with students. Maybe, just maybe, that interaction will be the thing that inspires the next generation of scientists to come to OMRF.”