The lab coats were baggy. The gloves ill-fitting. The safety glasses a touch loose. But if one thing fit just right for 17 elementary school students on Tuesday at OMRF, it was curiosity.
On Tuesday, OMRF hosted these budding scientists to give them a taste of real hands-on research at its annual Putnam City Junior Scientist Days.
For the past 39 years, OMRF has provided students from the PC school district with a unique opportunity to learn about science in a real laboratory setting, using high-powered microscopes and other state-of-the-art equipment.
Whether they’re learning to pipette, observing blood vessels, or watching tiny worms squirm under a microscope or learning about how DNA is analyzed, it’s an invaluable learning experience for students.
Tulakes Elementary student Aaren Underwood couldn’t stop smiling while extracting DNA from a banana. “I didn’t know bananas had DNA,” he said, still squishing the banana inside the bag. “I might want to be a scientist. It’s really fun!”
Xander Stone from Wiley Post Elementary also got to work with DNA and loved the experience. “It was so awesome getting to see DNA and cells up close; it’s different to see it for yourself than to learn about it,” he said, grinning from ear-to-ear. “It’s a lot of fun and really cool.”
Few traditions generate the buzz around OMRF quite like Junior Scientist Days, stoking the fire of young minds and reenergizing the scientists who do research every day.
“This event means a ton to OMRF, and we see the benefit of it in the bright eyes and smiles of the children in the labs,” said OMRF director of development Allison Parker. “OMRF is so appreciative of everything Putnam City has done for us and we love being able to give back in this way. Seeing the students so excited is very special and something we always look forward to.”
Parents and school officials in attendance were treated to a presentation by cancer researcher Linda Thompson, Ph.D., followed by a tour of the foundation’s facilities.
Thompson holds the Putnam City Schools Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research at OMRF, which was established by the PC Cancer Drive. The funding has helped support numerous projects, including research from Thompson’s lab leading to the world’s first genetics-based risk assessment test for breast cancer.
“This is always a special day at OMRF and it’s an opportunity for us to give back to the students of this district who have done so much for us,” said Thompson. “We are incredibly fortunate to have such a devoted partner in the fight against cancer, and these energetic young scientists are proof that the future is bright.”
This year’s event was sponsored by Cox Communications.
“As a technology company, Cox understands the critical importance of exposing students to STEM activities early. At OMRF, we have some of the top scientists and researchers in the world, right here in Oklahoma City,” said Cox Business Sales Director Ashley Perkins. “The decision to support a program that gives Putnam City students the opportunity to work side by side with these scientists was an easy decision for our company. The students participating in Junior Scientist Day represent the future leaders of our businesses and communities, and Cox is proud to play a part in helping to develop those leaders.”
After more than 41 years of continued support, the PC school district has raised more than $3.4 million for the Oklahoma City-based nonprofit institute’s cancer research programs. OMRF hosted elementary students from PC schools on Tuesday and the middle school and high school students on Friday. The students are hand-selected by teachers.
“One of the things I love about Junior Scientist Day is seeing the engagement in learning by students,” said Putnam City superintendent Dr. Fred Rhodes. “You can see it in their faces as they work in labs and you hear it when you talk to them when the day is over that they have experienced something that means a great deal to them. It’s clearly a very special opportunity for hands-on, active learning.”