URI to offer Sugar Science Day for high school girls

Feb. 22 program during winter break for public high schools

Posted on
High school students attending Sugar Science Day at the University of Rhode Island last year. Photo courtesy of Mindy Levine.

KINGSTON, R.I., Feb. 13, 2017—How sweet it is that the University of Rhode Island is once again offering a one-day science camp for high school girls.

Registration is still open for Sugar Science Day, to be held Feb. 22, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., on the Kingston campus. So far, 18 students have signed up, and there’s room for 32 more.

“We’re thrilled to be planning for the second year of Sugar Science Day,” says Mindy Levine, associate professor of chemistry and program coordinator. “It’s more important than ever to promote science literacy, encourage girls into science and create positive associations around the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.”

Students will spend the day studying the chemistry of sugar by making their own rock candy, examining the amount of sugar in soft drinks, designing fuel for handmade rockets using sugar and separating candy colors based on chromatography, which is the separation of mixtures.

They’ll also investigate what happens when Gummy candy comes into contact with chemicals and even make (and eat) their own ice cream using liquid nitrogen.

And they’ll have an opportunity to connect with female graduate students and faculty members and learn about summer research opportunities at URI.

The camp is funded by a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation.

Research shows that girls start losing interest in science in middle school and, in some cases, even earlier. This loss of interest continues as girls get older, and ultimately means that fewer women pursue studies and careers in science, technology, engineering and math. For example, at the top 50 universities throughout the country, only 18 percent of tenured and tenure-track positions were held by females in 2012−2013, says Levine.

Research indicates that this gender gap may start as early as fourth grade, with girls of this age having a more negative attitude towards science. The lack of female role models is a significant contributing factor. Levine attributes that loss of interest to the misconception that girls don’t have the ability to succeed in science. She also says there should be more female scientists as role models, so that girls of all ages understand that they, too, can be scientists.

A winner of the Women Chemists Committee Rising Star Award from the American Chemical Society and Stanley C. Israel Award for Increasing Diversity in the Chemical Sciences, Levine has been outspoken about the importance of getting more female students interested in chemistry and careers in science.

In addition to Sugar Science Day, Levine runs Chemistry Camp for Middle School Girls, a weeklong program for middle school girls throughout Rhode Island during the April school vacation week. She and her graduate students have conducted science outreach programs for girls at The Greene School in West Greenwich, the MET School in Providence and the public library in Johnston.

“I wish when I was a high school student there were programs like this,” Levine says. “It is in the interest of the entire scientific community to ensure that all people with the talent, interest and motivation to contribute to science feel welcome and able to do so. I am so grateful that the National Science Foundation agrees and is continuing to fund this important program.”

To register for the Feb. 22 camp, visit Sugar Science Day.