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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Roaches and DNA blobs! UA hosts CSI camp

    What’s cooler than extracting the DNA of a banana and getting to play with it, too? Not much, to the 27 local junior high students who began attending the UA’s CSI Science Investigation camp Monday.

    The students get pretty energized about medical science, said Sarah Wilkinson, a UA cancer biology graduate student and camp team leader who volunteered last year. They even get lab coats to help in their weeklong investigations.

    When the banana’s genetic code was extracted during one demonstration last year, they came up with a big blob of DNA and let the kids poke at it, Wilkinson said.

    After that experience, one boy took home the protocol, which involved salt and liquid detergent, and extracted DNA from a kiwi and a papaya, she said.

    He was “”so excited”” when he told her about it the next day, she added.

    Another activity had the students swabbing a variety of objects at the UA Cancer Center, where the camp is held, to see what kinds of organisms would show up, Wilkinson said.

    The kids swabbed everything, including the toilet seats, but also some unusual things.

    One girl managed to swab a cockroach she found in a hallway, Wilkinson said.

    “”It was alive,”” she said. “”It stuck to the cotton ball for a moment,”” but got free and ran away.

    “”We were all screaming,”” Wilkinson said, but the girl “”had fun swabbing it.””

    From those swabs, the kids learned that toilet seats do not have much bacteria on them, due in large part to the janitorial staff at the center, she said.

    As for the roach, she said, “”some bacteria definitely grew”” after the swab had incubated for 24 hours.

    They did not identify the bacteria, but the students got to see the stuff in the incubation dish, Wilkinson said.

    They also go to the morgue during the week, she said. Last year, the kids got to see preserved body parts.

    The brains were their favorite, but they wanted more.

    “”They wanted to see a dead body,”” she said, but that was and still is a no-no. “”We try to keep from scaring the kids.””

    As it is, permission slips are mandatory, due in part to sensitivity toward Native American beliefs about the dead.

    The team leader opportunity, which is unpaid and not for credit, has sparked an interest for teaching in Wilkinson.

    When she learned of the volunteer position, she decided to try it even though her program does not require a teaching component.

    “”It definitely opened it as an option,”” she said. “”I never thought I wanted to be a teacher.””

    There has been talk of getting credit for the experience, but getting paid was not even a question.

    “”The program doesn’t have a lot of extra money,”” she said.

    “”I didn’t even think of getting paid,”” she added. “”Getting to put it on my rǸsumǸ is great.””

    In fact, Wilkinson and the other grad volunteers voted to not have their lunches paid for this year, as they did last year, she said. The kids would ask why the grad students got to eat special food. So, in the interest of fairness, it was better for them to bring their own lunches and save the camp some money, she said.

    Wilkinson worked with the same students all week and had the opportunity to watch them grow.

    The students were divided into three groups, C, S and I. The leaders, two per team, were responsible for keeping the students on task and taking them wherever they needed to go, Wilkinson said. The leaders also gave lectures and conducted activities.

    Underneath all of the fun is real learning. Though the program uses the CSI theme to “”reel the kids in,”” said camp coordinator Tamara Burkhead, the main theme is to expose the kids to scientific theory.

    They use clues from a crime scene in a box specially designed as a teaching tool to develop hypotheses, she said.

    “”It helps them develop critical-thinking skills,”” she said. “”We introduce that a hypothesis is fluid because new evidence can come into play.””

    The camp isn’t all about the crime scene, though.

    “”They have (a) health hour to teach them about nutrition, epidemiology, food-borne illnesses, sun safety and smoking,”” said Burkhead, who is also a senior research specialist at the Arizona Cancer Center. “”That’s how we introduce cancer information”” and promote healthy lifestyle choices, she added.

    The camp is very popular, despite only being its second year, she said, adding that as soon as it opened, it filled up.

    “”It’s a blast,”” Burkhead added. “”We have fun.””

    The one-week camp is part of the UA’s Arizona Youth University, which is hosting 25 camps this summer in subjects ranging from computers to music and the arts from June through July.

    Part of the purpose of AYU is to help kids select their career paths, said Helen Macdonald, senior program coordinator for AYU and the UA’s Elderhostel program in Tucson, which are both parts of the UA’s Office of Continuing Education and Academic Outreach.

    The participating students come from different schools and backgrounds, she said. The program offers scholarships to ensure that any student has a chance to explore something new at AYU.

    This year, 12 students are on scholarship in the CSI camp, which costs $425 per child, Macdonald said.

    “”These are kids who have done well in school who need the financial help,”” she said.

    In almost all the fields AYU covers, one of the goals is to get kids involved early on, Macdonald said.

    “”If we get them on campus early enough, they get that fire in their belly,”” she said.

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