Fitted with safety goggles, gloves and lab coats far too large for their small frames, 18 budding young scientists eagerly tried their hands at experiments at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation today.
Thursday marked the start of the 34th annual Putnam City Junior Scientist Days, when the foundation opens its doors to promising science students from Putnam City Schools to spend a day working in labs alongside researchers.
“That was fun,” said Lane Sullivan, a fifth grader at Windsor Hills Elementary. “We got to chop up cancer and look at it under a microscope.”
The students, mostly fourth and fifth graders, got the chance to try everything from extracting the DNA from strawberries to examining tumors in an MRI. On Friday, 16 middle and high school students will visit OMRF for a similar experience.
Ten-year-old student Kenney Phair, a fifth grader at Apollo Elementary, said he learned all about bacteria. “We saw them collide and separate and they’ve very small, so it’s actually a whole colony of them,” he said. “I definitely want to do this when I get older.”
There are few traditions more exciting than Junior Scientist Days, said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D.
“Kids make great scientists because they’re open to asking questions,” he said. “And that’s what we do at OMRF. We ask why and try to find answers.”
And the thrill of discovery is clear when you see a student who “gets it,” said Prescott. “That’s how you become a scientist: you get hooked on learning something new.”
The event is OMRF’s way of thanking a school district whose students, teachers and parents have raised nearly $3 million for cancer research over the past three-plus decades. Funds raised through bake sales, talent shows, soccer tournaments and 5K runs have purchased specialized equipment for OMRF laboratories. The money also funded the creation of the Putnam City Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research, held by OMRF scientist Linda Thompson, Ph.D.
“There are only winners in this equation,” said Putnam City Schools Superintendent Paul Hurst. “Our students know cancer. Everyone knows somebody who has had cancer. Working with OMRF means our students can do something to help stop this disease while letting them experience the high-level science that’s leading the effort.”