Montgomery County middle-schoolers get immersive, interactive tour of science and medical labs

Annual Frontiers in Science and Medicine Day teaches students about careers in STEM fields

Three students watch as a fourth pipes liquid into a test tube held by a graduate student volunteer

Image caption: Students pipe liquids into a test tube during one of the interactive tours of the labs at JHU's Montgomery County campus

Credit: Rob Riddle

Some students donned hazmat suits to learn about epidemiology. Some peered at a brain specimen under a microscope to learn about Alzheimer's disease. Others learned about the relationship between mosquitoes and malaria, or about the role of robotics in medicine, or about the intersection of technology and pharmaceuticals.

In all, approximately 500 Montgomery County Public Schools seventh-graders participated in the ninth annual Frontiers in Science and Medicine Day at the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center.

Students from John Poole and Kingsview middle schools spent part of an October day at the Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus, where they delved into hands-on science and medicine activities. They spent the other part of the day visiting a local laboratory or hospital so they could experience what doctors and scientists do on a daily basis.

The students toured science companies in the community, including NeuroDiagnostics, MedImmune, Sanaria, BioReliance, and the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research. Students also toured the pediatric emergency department at Adventist Healthcare Shady Grove Medical Center, epidemiology and forensics labs at JHU's Montgomery County campus, the pharmacy and nursing schools at the University of Maryland, the exercise science lab of Salisbury University, and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

The collaborative event is a way to introduce Montgomery County seventh-graders to careers in science and medicine at a time when they are thinking about what they want to be when they grow up. Montgomery County has more than 300 biotech companies and 10,000 highly educated biotech workers, according to the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation. Yet many people are unaware of the work that goes on in these buildings.

"Not only does 'Frontiers' connect students to the curriculum through real-world applications, it provides our students with the opportunity to see it in action," said Jon Green, acting principal of John Poole Middle School.

Frontiers in Science and Medicine Day supports Montgomery County Public Schools by providing opportunities for students to engage in hands-on activities and experiences, said Rhonda Moreno, MCPS supervisor of science, technology, and engineering. Students are exposed to cutting-edge, state-of-the-art science and technology problems and practices, she said.

"Not only were students excited about doing science, they were actively engaged in the learning and the practical application of science concepts learned in class," Moreno said.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Biotechnology Education ran two lab tours on campus. In one, students in the wet lab learned how DNA is used in forensics as they conducted experiments to help identify who ate the cat food in a mock scenario. In another, students learned about epidemiology and infectious diseases as they tracked the spread of a zombie virus at a mock carnival.

Graduate students led the seventh-graders through several of the activities—an opportunity for middle-schoolers to interact with college students.

"I appreciate the fact there are students who look like them and students who are moving forward with science after high school," Moreno said.

Nasheni Nurse, 12, a Kingsview Middle School student, participated in the epidemiology exercise.

"I learned scientists do some really interesting things like interview people to find out how diseases start," Nurse said. "Today was a really cool day, and I wish I could do it again."