Local kids experience science at Yale

In an annual addition to classroom experiments, New Haven middle-school students will have an opportunity to learn about science from Yale faculty whose knowledge normally comes with $45,000 price tag.

Yale’s Science Saturdays, hosted by the Mechanical Engineering Department, will return this spring for its fourth season. Founded in 2004, the program provides New Haven children with the opportunity to attend faculty demonstrations and lectures, free of charge, every Saturday beginning this week. The lectures will discuss topics ranging from fruit flies finding bananas to the physical processes behind Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI.

Yale College Dean Peter Salovey talks at a Science Saturday, which brings New Haven students to campus to hear Yale professors lecture.
Kevin Osowski
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey talks at a Science Saturday, which brings New Haven students to campus to hear Yale professors lecture.

Mechanical engineering professor Ainissa Ramirez, who founded the program, said Science Saturdays fosters a positive relationship between the university and often under-funded local public schools.

“The program is really an informal way to get kids excited about science,” she said.

The program is directed toward children in the seventh grade and above. Local teachers often provide extra credit to students who choose to attend the sessions, Ramirez said.

Janet Emanuel, a Yale spokeswoman, said the program has expanded both its audience and the diversity of its offerings. Attendance peaked at approximately 250 attendees one Saturday last year.

The sessions, which have been aired on public access television, will also be available on a Web site via streaming video and recorded podcasts. DVDs are currently available in libraries as far away as Florida.

But biomedical engineering professor Erin Lavik, who co-hosts the program, said the program was founded primarily for the local community’s benefit.

“When [Professor Ramirez] arrived here, there were limited opportunities for students to connect with science at Yale,” Lavik said in an e-mail. “She created Science Saturdays as a forum in which students from the New Haven community could experience the excitement and wonder of science.”

Yale organizations such as the Yale Science Magazine and the National Association of Black Engineers routinely help with the program’s demonstrations, providing variety in the ages of the instructors.

Ramirez said the program has developed slowly, as it was initially difficult to get professors interested enough that they would be willing to sacrifice their weekends.

The program won Yale’s Seton Elm-Ivy award in 2005, an award granted to institutions that foster better Yale-New Haven relations. Its administrators are currently exploring increase its relations with the Peabody Museum of Natural History and the statewide Bio Bus program.

Ramirez noted that one of her proudest accomplishments regarding the program is its involvement with Career High School. Yale, along with Pfizer, sponsored the school in a robotics competition. In 2004, the school came in 735th place of 750 contestants, but placed 2nd in 2005 and 1st in 2006.

This year’s speakers will include chemistry professor Kurt Zilm, biology professor John Carlson, neuroscience professor Charles Greer and Ramirez herself. The program takes place each Saturday at 10:30 a.m. in Davies Auditorium.

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