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Photos by Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Tonniea Smith, 9, checks out static electricity using a Van de Graaff generator at Saturday’s STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – event at IPFW.

Event aims to inspire girls to like science

Jessica Hartmus, 11, determines how much weight the structure she built using paper and tape will hold at the event Saturday at IPFW.

– Several faculty members and students in the physics department at IPFW spent Saturday afternoon trying to pique girls’ interest in studying science.

Literally.

They had some of them lie down on a bed of nails.

In the Walb Student Union ballroom, physics faculty member Jacob Millspaugh and Mark Masters, physics department chairman, encouraged Ro Me Na to lean back on a board covered with hundreds of pointy protrusions.

“It felt a little bumpy,” the 9-year-old Abbett Elementary student said as she arose. “It didn’t hurt.”

That’s because when weight is distributed across enough points, each point bears very little weight, Millspaugh explained.

“Think of lifting a couch,” he said. One person would find it impossible to lift. But add four or five or eight or a dozen people, and suddenly, they can lift the couch together without it feeling heavy at all.

Jeffrey A. Nowak, science educator with Northeast Indiana STEM Education Resource Center at IPFW, said the event aims to help solve a scientific problem – the lack of gender diversity in the so-called STEM fields of science, technology, education and mathematics.

The problem is particularly perplexing because in middle school, girls typically do better than boys in science and math classes, Nowak said.

“But in high school, that seems to take a turn where boys do better and tend to go on in college,” he said. “We’re trying to make sure we counter that.”

Saturday’s event was designed for girls in kindergarten through fifth grade and was hosted by Fort Wayne Community Schools, the Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana-Michiana and IPFW.

About 200 girls attended, learning about how birds catch fish from a staff member of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo and about the life cycle of sea turtles from IPFW’s biology department.

About a dozen groups, including Science Central and Starbase Indiana, a Department of Defense initiative at the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard’s base in Fort Wayne, provided the demonstrations and hands-on experiences.

Several of the demonstrators were women, including Sydnee Hamick, a student in IPFW’s physics department.

She showed attendees a phenomenon known as spolling, in which an object simultaneously spins and rolls.

Hamick, Masters said, epitomizes what a young woman interested in science can accomplish. She recently was named researcher of the year for studies about how globular clusters, or groups of stars, form.

“She’s one of our best students,” he said.

After watching a demonstration of how liquids of different densities perform, attendee Paige Lowery, 11, of Fort Wayne said she can’t wait to go on in science.

“I came here because my school informed me about it. My teacher picked me for this. I thought it was really cool,” she said.

“I love science. It’s like my favorite subject.”

rsalter@jg.net

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