Singing, Dancing, Careful Note-Taking: Students Express Life Science Ideas at Expo

5/28/09

The red blood cells traveled down the vein in their endless journey, moving oxygen and nourishment throughout the body. But some blood cells, thinner, curved, and more rigid were having trouble. They stuck to the blood vessel walls slowing this whole intricate process to a crawl.

Actually these weren’t real red blood cells, or veins. They were part of a model put together by Audrey Zehren, a student at Seattle’s Ballard High School. My eye was drawn to her project as I wandered through the Student Bio Expo organized by the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research, yesterday morning along with hundreds of other attendees.

This event was loaded with creative juice, showing around 350 different exhibits from high school students, who displayed molecular models, art projects, lab research reports, journalistic writing, even rap and dance numbers. Every room in the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, WA, hummed with excited energy Zehren’s display caught my eye with the motion its small pieces of rubber representing healthy red blood cells, alongside their sickly cousins made of bits of brass. They both traveled in water through silicone tubes, but strategically placed magnets along an attached cork board caused the brass to clog up the tubes. It’s a singularly illustrative representation of sickle-cell anemia (see photo below).

Sickle Cell Model
Now in its ninth year, the Student Bio Expo draws students in biology and biotechnology classes from many area high schools. The students get matched up with mentors with serious scientific credentials from around the Seattle biotech community, at places like Amgen, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The program has continued to gain popularity among students each year. “We’re pretty much at capacity now,” says Jeanne Chowning, the director of education for NWABR and one of the main organizers of the event.

To my eye, three things made this science fair stand out. The students come from many different schools instead of just one, they have a wide range of ways to express scientific ideas, and they get mentoring from experts in relevant disciplines. The students work on their project during the whole school year. So the mentoring relationship, rather than being just a one-day deal, becomes a year-long experience. Sometimes it even leads to more, with mentors often helping students find solid university programs to further their studies, or even internships suited to their scientific interest after the expo is over.

After being an expo judge for some years, JoAnn Schuh, a veterinary pathology consultant, chose to mentor a student this year. “It’s been a nice change,” she says. She mentored Kaitlin Cleveland, a student at Attic Learning Community in Woodinville, WA. Cleveland, a third-time exhibitor at the expo, chose to artistically render pulmonary hemorrhages in horses using painted and fused glass. This artful … Next Page »

Eric Hal Schwartz was an intern in Xconomy's Seattle office. Follow @

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