Freshmen STEM students visit JMU science facilities


Jenifer Bautista-Lopez

Freshmen part of the Governor's STEM Academy quantify their DNA.

In the morning of Friday, Feb. 16, the freshmen of the Governor’s STEM Academy hopped on a bus after first block to participate in three different science/engineering-based activities run by students and faculty at JMU. Myron Blosser, Co-Director of the STEM Academy, chose to bring the students to JMU so they could see what STEM-related majors look like at local universities.

“Most of [the STEM students] will go to college. We decided to pick some [colleges] we thought would be reasonable options that we had contacts with. We set up a program where all freshmen would go to JMU, all sophomores would go to Virginia Tech and all juniors would go to UVA. We then approached the universities and planned activities that would fit the curriculum for the year,” Blosser said.

Currently, all of the freshmen in STEM are taking STEM Biology and STEM Innovations, so the students participated in activities involving biotechnology, engineering and creative thinking. Since there were so many freshmen on the field trip, the students split up into three groups. Freshman Stanley Inouye was part of Group B, and they visited the bioscience building of JMU first. They did a lab where they got to quantify their own cheek cells.

“We took our cheek cells and used a centrifuge to separate the DNA. Then, you took the sample and put it on a machine where it quantified your DNA and you saw how much DNA in the unit was there,” Inouye said.

Both Inouye and freshman Stella Alexiou thought that the cheek cell lab was the most interesting out of the three activities.

“I found the process of quantifying it really interesting. I thought it was going to be a lot harder than it actually was. It is a really cool process that is basically just centrifugation,” Alexiou said.

STEM students also got to visit X-Labs at JMU. X-Labs is a makerspace where students use technology and engineering to solve real-world problems. Freshman Silas Benevento was part of the first group to attend X-Labs.

“At X-Labs, we learned about the different types of things they do. We also had a challenge [that] varied from group to group because they figured out that it was too easy for our group. The challenge was to build a bridge that could hold a roll of duct tape. [Our group] just stuck some rulers across and rubber-banded them together and it worked,” Benevento said.

Alexiou thought that the X-Labs activity was the most fun and helped her strengthen her choice to partake in the Technology and Engineering Pathway of STEM for the rest of her high school career. Alexiou isn’t interested in engineering as a career option, but she believes engineering is a useful skill to have.

“The bridge project helped me realize that there’s a lot more to learn about engineering than I currently know, so that helped me solidify my idea that I should take Engineering II, even though I’m not interested in engineering,” Alexiou said.

The final activity the STEM students participated in was done by JMU Engineering students. The STEM students learned about a metal alloy called nitinol that can remember its original shape after it has been deformed. These “smart metals” will return to their original shape after being deformed when heat is applied. Students had to come up with different ways smart metals can be used in the real world.

Blosser believes that the innovation that occurred during this activity was the most fun to watch.

“The problem solving that occured in the engineering room was the most fun to watch. [The students were] filled with ideas and those ideas were all different and neat. I found myself wishing that [they] could take their top idea and run with it,” Blosser said. “Watching [them] brainstorm ideas and come up with one that would be a cool thing to do with the metal that has a memory was a neat thing,” Blosser said.

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