News: ‘Build-a-Bug’ helps interest kids in science
Story by Jason Bortz
FT. BELVOIR, Va. - Understanding monoclonal antibodies can be difficult for a college student to understand, but explaining it to elementary age children can be a daunting task.
Charles Hong, science and technology manager, Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department (DTRA CB), thought of a simple method to show monoclonal antibodies to kids.
“I had [the kids] use [building blocks] to build a field goal post, which looks like a monoclonal antibody,” said Hong.
Hong, along with Dr. Morgan Minyard and Dr. Bob Moyer, both microbiologists with DTRA CB who work at the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center with Hong, participated in the United States Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C., this past April. DTRA CB, which seeks methods to reduce the chemical and biological threat to the military and our Nation and functions as the Joint Science and Technology Office for the Department of Defense’s Chemical and Biological Defense Program, was one of the agencies that participated in the event.
The festival was used as a method to gain kids’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Recent studies have shown that fewer U.S. born scientists are working in the U.S. than in the past. According to the Population Reference Bureau website, the ratio of U.S.-born scientists and foreign born scientists working in the U.S. in 1994 was 6.2 U.S.-born workers to every foreign-born worker. In 2006, that ratio was 3.1 to 1.
When Hong volunteered to work at the festival, he wanted to find a way to draw kids to the booth and not just hand out literature. He wanted something interactive, so he came up with the idea with the building blocks, which he called “Build-a-Bug.” The blocks were used to show children about passive and adaptive immunity and how vaccines and anti-virals work to protect the human body.
While “Build-a-Bug” was great for younger children, the three wanted to draw older ones as well.
Building off an existing idea, Hong developed an activity that challenged the dexterity of children of all ages. He made participants wear rubber gloves, similar to the ones scientists wear in labs, and had them try to complete a puzzle in the box. The gloves made it surprising difficult and challenged older children.
“The activities attracted a lot of kids,” said Hong, whose hometown is Centerville, Va. “They introduced the kids to science and made it fun.”
While the festival was a great opportunity to share science with children, this was not the first time for Minyard and Moyer to share their passion of science with others.
Minyard, who is from Odessa, Texas, speaks to students as part of the AVID Program. AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a national program that helps students prepare for college and invites professionals to speak to students about the importance of college. Minyard also volunteered at an elementary school to help educate children on soil contamination by conducting experiments with live earthworms.
Finding the time to volunteer to work with kids is not easy, especially for scientists who are invested in researching ways to reduce chemical and biological threats to warfighters and our Nation, but the explanation as to why they do it is relatively simple.
“It’s fun,” said Moyer, when asked why he volunteers. “A lot of time is spent outside of work to [volunteer], but it is fun.”
Moyer, who is from Cleveland, also volunteered to be a mentor for a local high school student to help him with his senior project.
“It’s a chance for a student to make a connection with someone in the bio-medicine field,” said Moyer about the mentoring, “and get an idea of what it is like to work in science.”
None of the three are looking for attention for their efforts with working with children; they simply do it because of their love of science. However, that has not stopped them from getting some special attention.
“A kid wanted to take a picture with me at the festival because I was a real scientist,” said Minyard with a smile.
More information can be found about DTRA CB by visiting www.dtra.mil or by liking us on Facebook, keyword DTRA.