Science Institute receives grant, faculty recognition

By Senah Yeboah-Sampong

The Science Institute, which is part of the Department of Science & Mathematics, recently received two grants totaling $31,000.

The institute received a $10,000 grant from Northeastern Illinois University and a $21,000 grant from After School Matters, a non-profit dedicated to providing educational opportunities to Chicago teens. The grant will be used to fund its Junior Research Scientists program, which brings Chicago Public School students to Columbia to work on renewable energy and biology projects.

Junior Research Scientists provides science education that enriches the  college by allowing students to participate in its mission of enhancing the community of Chicago,  said Marcelo Caplan, an associate professor in the Department of Science & Mathematics.

Caplan received a Federation for Community Schools leadership award Oct. 19 for his work with Junior Research Scientists and the Scientists for Tomorrow project, an outreach program through which Columbia students and faculty partner with community centers in 15 locations to teach STEM topics—science, technology, engineering and math—to elementary students.

“Receiving the leadership award was recognition of all the hard work that all of our team is doing [ to promote] these community schools to be the best they can be and promoting STEM in our communities,”Caplan said.

Graduate students in the Education Department instruct elementary students in the After School Matters and Scientists for Tomorrow programs while film students document their work, Caplan said.

“It’s been a really fun balance of working on my art career and working on my educational career with science,” said Jessica Egan, an art & design  senior.

Egan has taught in the institute’s Scientists for Tomorrow, Scientists for a Day and Junior Research Scientists programs since 2011. She said the institute appealed to her interest in hands-on teaching methods and gave her the chance to strengthen her teaching abilities.

She said her work on cancer cell research  with Junior Research Scientists inspired her artistic work.

“For a project, I used a lot of plant samples and used the microscope to photograph those samples,” Egan said. “A lot of that was brought on when I started working at the cancer cell research lab with these actual, growing cancer cells almost daily and had these [oddly] beautiful images to look at.”

Ryne Wellman, a 2012 film & video alumnus, said he got involved with the Science Institute because the scientific aspect of the programs appealed to him.

“I feel like my mind works scientifically, and I had to understand how [film production] comes together as science,” Wellman said. “I wanted to be able to blend science and filmmaking.”

Students from both programs are constructing solar-powered toy cars in the first phase of an alternative energy module, one of three components that rotate throughout the year.

Other elements of the program include exploring the physics of sound, the mathematics of music and the relationship between people and plants.

These students and others will build solar-powered devices for a Dec. 6 symposium at Ferguson Hall in the Alexandroff Campus Center, 600 S. Michigan Ave.

In the final phase of the module, students will create templates for the projects using Google SketchUp, said David Morton, director of the Science Visualization Lab. The symposium presentations will also be refined in the Wabash Campus Building lab.

Caplan said no one is pushing  the program’s participants to be scientists, but they will come out of the program with the ability to address pressing issues using scientifically correct language that will be understood by people unfamiliar with the issues.

“People go to school and leave school, but the community where you live is with you all the time,” Caplan said. “It’s important [that community members] understand they are important in this process.”