Enthusiastic preteen girls descended on Sloane Physics Laboratory on Saturday.
Middle-school girls from in and around New Haven met all day for the second session of the second annual Girls’ Science Investigations, called “The Classical to Quantum Mechanical World.” GSI, which was started by associate professor of physics Bonnie Flemming, aims to engage young women in the community in experiments and encourages them to ask questions about science.
“There are two breaks in the pipeline where girls lose interest in science: in middle school and as undergraduates,” Flemming said. “This program seeks to patch the first.”
The program, which holds four sessions throughout the school year on topics ranging from electromagnetism to extraterrestrial life, has nearly doubled in the number of participants it attracts since its inception last year.
The first two experiments of the day involved Galileo’s experiments on gravity and Newton’s laws, illustrated by a demonstration of a feather and a penny falling in a vacuum tube. The girls also learned about sound wavelength and frequency by studying tuning-fork frequency, string and water ripples.
Holding vibrating tuning forks over a coaster-sized microphone, the girls watched as jagged lines representing the variations in wavelength appeared on a computer screen.
The girls learned about not only the physical laws, but also the scientists who pioneered them.
“I like seeing how things work,” Denisha Kuhloi, a seventh-grader at Dag Hammarskjold Middle School, said about the experiments on offer. “The science books just tell you information. This shows you how it plays out in reality.”
The program increases the girls’ confidence in their ability to do science, in addition to sparking their interest, Marion Applequist, a retired high school physics teacher and a non-faculty volunteer for the program, said. The women volunteering for this program, she explained, want to give girls support and encouragement to continue in a male-dominated field.
“It’s nice for the girls to be able to ask questions and say what they want without being judged by guys,” Michele Dufault ’11, an astronomy and physics major who was volunteering at the event, said. “Almost all of the volunteers and scientists involved with this program are women — showing the girls that women can succeed in the sciences. I wish I had that opportunity at their age.”
The day was filled with activities besides experiments, too. For instance, the group of girls were given the chance to ask assistant professor Helen Caines, a nuclear physicist, questions in the “Ask a Scientist” session. Toward the end of the day, the girls were given a tour of Yale’s particle accelerator by professor Andres Heinz.
Many particularly enjoyed the sign on the wall that read, “Please put your toys away when you’re done.”
The girls attending GSI had interests in science ranging from research to engineering and even veterinary medicine.
“I want to study biochemistry and forensics,” Olyvia Elderkin, a seventh-grader at James H. Moran Middle School, said. “We studied Newton’s laws in school, but this takes it to the next level.”
GSI is funded through Fleming’s National Science Foundation CAREER grant, the Department of Physics, and Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs, and is free for participating schools.