Hundreds of local high schoolers get a glimpse at life as a scientist during STEM Day at Brown

Ultimately, the faculty wanted the young students to see scientists as approachable people and build an appreciation for the fact that they could become scientists as well, Rubenstein added.

“I grew up in an area that, in some sense, was a STEM desert,” she said. “I’m very much committed to showing people these opportunities, because I recognize how valuable it is to be exposed to these ideas and how it could change their lives.”

The experience has also been valuable for high school teachers, who have often connected with Brown faculty members and students to form partnerships that extend well beyond the initial event and can lead to mentoring opportunities, small grants and even donations of equipment. Last year, for instance, Robinson and other colleagues sent surplus materials from their labs to Central High School after connecting with a chemistry teacher at a previous STEM Day.

Engaging with STEM

This year’s STEM Day kicked off with the high school students hearing from Brown faculty, undergraduates and graduate students covering topics like how to choose concentrations and what career paths can look like during college and after graduation.

A number of Brown students spoke during a panel discussion about their own personal paths into STEM. Graduate students Lacie Connelli, Alexander Del Toro, Kimberly Meza and Andres Zambrano talked about being first-generation college students from low-income backgrounds, and shared their experiences with navigating financial aid and being part of historically underrepresented groups in STEM.

“I knew that if I wanted to go college, I was going to have to pay for it on my own,” said Connelli, who was among the first in her family to go to college. “It’s possible to go to college, stay on campus and have that entire experience without any help from your family… A lot of that was actually due to going into STEM, which has a lot of good scholarships.”

Many of the accounts resonated with the local students, who said they could see themselves in the panelists.

“Seeing where they are today, that was very inspiring,” said Tatiana Nyanti, an 11th grader at TIMES2 who will also be a first-generation college student when it comes time for her to enroll.

Students spent the bulk of STEM Day participating in demonstrations and workshops on a variety of science subjects.

At the session simulating the clogged artery, for instance, students immediately started discussing ideas and strategies before deciding on their course of action. Some decided to wrap the pipe cleaner around the umbrella, while others tried to tie it on as a tail to get any last bits of cheese left behind.

Barrientos-Pineda, a member of the group that designed the winning surgical prototype, said the key to their strategy was opening the umbrella before putting it into the rigatoni.

“If you push it through slightly expanded, it will close in and push around the edges,” Barrientos-Pinedas said.

Three Brown graduate students overseeing the challenge led a follow-up discussion about the overall design process in biomedical engineering.

In another session, a group of students from Johnston learned how certain chemical reactions can turn liquids into solids. They mixed together fruit flavors, cold water, a powder-like substance called sodium alginate and a type of salt known as calcium chloride. The reaction produces tiny little gelatin balls called fruit caviar. Students in the session largely mixed traditional fruit flavors, like strawberry and banana, but some of the bolder students mixed in flavors like vanilla Frappuccino and root beer.

In a Tesla coil demonstration, students watched as Brown graduate student Donovan Davino manipulated 2-foot-long sparks of lightning to produce music. The sounds from the electric currents played contemporary hits like “Lucid Dreams” by Juice WRLD and widely recognized classics like “The Imperial March” from “Star Wars.” During the “Star Wars” song, Davino held an unconnected tube light in his hand like a lightsaber. The nearby electric currents from the coil turned it on. Students watched eagerly as some nodded along and even whipped out their phones to record the show.

During a break in the music, Davino explained how the device operates in relation to the fundamental physics of electronic circuits.

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