Chemistry camp for middle school girls next week at URI

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KINGSTON, R.I., April 10, 2013 – A new weeklong chemistry camp for 40 middle school girls will be held at the University of Rhode Island’s Kingston campus from April 15 through 19 during public school vacation and again in 2014.

The camp is the brainchild of URI Assistant Professor of Chemistry Mindy Levine, who hopes to ignite a passion for science in girls at a crucial age. Abundant research confirms that girls start losing interest in science during middle school or earlier. The result is a dearth of women working in science, technology, engineering, and math. Levine wants to change that trend. She’s packed the camp with hands-on experiments using real-world objects, female scientists in a variety of interesting careers as guest speakers, and a field trip to the Boston Museum of Science.

“I want these girls to come out of this camp thinking that science is cool and that women can become scientists,” said Levine.

The camp has been funded for two years with a $15,000 award from the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Special Grant Program in the Chemical Sciences. Each day features a specific scientific focus, including: polymers; non-Newtonian fluids; acids and bases; and the chemistry of explosives. On the chemistry of explosives day, students will make sparklers using common lab chemicals and observe how to explode gummy bears with potassium chlorate. The guest speaker will be URI Chemistry Professor Jimmie Oxley, who directs URI’s Center of Excellence in Explosives. Her recent work on training aids for bomb-sniffing dogs is helping New York Transit Police fight terrorism.

Levine has an extensive network of female scientist colleagues who will meet and speak with the students. Female role models are critical when statistics show 75 percent of elementary school girls and 82 percent of boys report they like science. But by the time they reach high school, only 29 percent of girls report they’d enjoy being scientists compared to 52 percent of boys.

“I want to expose these students to female scientists in diverse careers to help combat the implicit stereotype that girls are not good at science,” Levine said.

The camp is sustainable beyond the two years the grant provides for and Levine is confident it will garner funding from other science organizations. There will be short-term evaluations immediately after the camp and long-term evaluations for tracking students as they choose colleges, majors, and careers.