About 30 Putnam City Schools students temporarily traded their iPads for goggles and lab coats this week while learning about science at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
OMRF hosted the students Tuesday and Wednesday for Junior Scientist Days, an annual event that gives Putnam City students a chance to meet researchers and try hands-on experiments in OMRF’s labs.
The event dates to 1979, four years after the district created the Putnam City Cancer Drive and designated OMRF as the beneficiary. Since then, students, teachers and parents have raised nearly $4 million for cancer research at OMRF.
Teachers selected one student per school for Junior Scientist Days, using criteria ranging from essays to classroom performance to interest in science.
In one lab, OMRF scientists Amber Rusnock and Michael Taylor helped fifth-graders Vaedan Panuelo and Kristina Warren break down beef, chicken and egg samples to determine which contained the most protein.
“We mixed them in liquid and put them in a machine to make it spin really fast and separate the particles, and then we added something at the end to show the protein,” said Kristina, who attends James L. Dennis Elementary School.
She arrived at OMRF with dreams of one day becoming a singer or a writer, but following her lab experience, Kristina acknowledged that science had gained ground on those two career options.
Several fifth-graders looked through microscopes – some for the first time. Others, like Anton Ngo from Arbor Grove Elementary, arrived with a more advanced knowledge of science.
Anton’s hand shot up when OMRF President Andrew Weyrich, Ph.D., asked whether any students had questions before being assigned to a lab. “Do you have any blood centrifuges here?” he asked.
Anton spent the next two hours learning about cells within the heart and the role liquid nitrogen plays in experiments. “It was cool to explore things I’ve never done,” he said.
Donations from Putnam City schools have supported numerous OMRF projects, including research that led to an experimental drug called OKN-007. The drug is undergoing clinical trials at the OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center and a dozen other sites around the U.S. to treat patients with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. OKN-007 also has shown promise in diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a fast-growing pediatric brain cancer.
“Junior Scientist Days is one small way we show our gratitude to the Putnam City School District for their decades of continuous support,” said OMRF’s Katherine Jackson, who coordinates the event. “That in itself makes Junior Scientist Days worthwhile, but it’s made even more special by watching the excitement and wonder on the students’ faces as they see science come to life in these labs.”