Sally Ride Festival Encourages Girls’ Interest in Science

Posted: April 16, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Ryann Doyle

On Saturday, April 18, Mason will host the Sally Ride Science Festival (SRSF) for the fourth time, bringing together hundreds of upper elementary and middle school girls, parents and teachers for a day of science and socializing.

The festival features discovery workshops for students presented by Mason faculty members and local scientists and engineers, as well as workshops for parents and teachers on ways to support students’ interests in science and math.

Presented by ExxonMobil and Sally Ride Science, the festival is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Research by the American Association of University Women, the Sally Ride Foundation and other entities has demonstrated that young girls make important decisions about whether to embrace math and science in school or as careers in the 5th through 8th grades.

Mason’s Department of Geography and Geoinformation Science is the leading host for the event. Sheryl Beach, associate professor and associate chair and director of academic programs in the department, has been the main faculty liaison with the SRSF since its East Coast debut at Mason in 2002.

In addition to her research as an earth scientist, Beach also does research in gender, diversity and science. She finds the mission of the SRSF is compelling to support.

“This festival is aimed at encouraging participation by presenting female scientist role models with whom the girls can interact; encouraging fun, hands-on experiences with science; and encouraging [the girls] to consider going to college in science by bringing these young students to experience university campuses nationwide,” says Beach.

At the festival, Beach will present a workshop, “Clean Water for a Green Earth.” Participants will engage in safe water quality tests in a lab setting so they can learn about water quality and “try out” being students in the College of Science at Mason.

“I got inspired to go into hydrology as a child when my hometown in California was flooded, so I would like to pass along that curiosity about nature to these students,” says Beach.

Michael Lyons, Mason instructor of applied information technology, participated in the previous SRSF at Mason in 2006 and volunteered again because he believes it is important to spark an interest in science in young people, especially girls. His workshop will use two robots that carry wireless cameras that he also uses in his class, IT 353 Information Defense Technologies.

“We will set up a homeland security scenario where the robots will go into a simulated situation that would be dangerous for people,” explains Lyons. “The girls will edit scripts that we will use to drive the robots remotely and see what the cameras show us.”

Jessica Rosenberg, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, is participating in the SRSF for the first time because she also thinks it is important to encourage more girls to get excited about science. Her workshop will focus on the Doppler shift of spectrum lines, and the girls will learn about the expansion of the universe by building Doppler balls made out of tennis balls with a buzzer inside.

“The girls can toss, swing above their head or move the Doppler balls back and forth to hear the change of pitch as the ball is either coming toward them or moving away,” explains Rosenberg. “The change in the pitch of a sound as the source moves toward or away from you is completely analogous to the change in the frequency of light [Doppler effect] when a galaxy is moving either toward or away from you.”

Another workshop will be presented by Carol Litchfield, Associate Professor Emerita of Environmental Science and Policy, who has been involved in the two previous SRSFs at Mason.

“My workshop will cover bacteria that grow in extreme environments. I’ll have the girls test for pigment production by one of the halophiles, which is bacteria that grow only in very high salt environments, that is used as surrogates for possible life on Mars,” says Litchfield.

A highlight of the festival will be a talk by cosmochemist Laurie Leshin, who serves as the director of sciences and exploration at the Goddard Space Flight Center and leads the largest science organization within NASA.

The festival also includes lunch and a street fair with hands-on activities, booths and music.

There is still time to get involved and space for a science booth. Any science groups on campus that would like to participate in the street fair portion of the festival or reserve space for general volunteers should contact Beach or Bear Ride, the main organizer of the SRSF.

Advance registration is required. For more information or to register for the SRSF, visit the SRSF web site. Registration is $20 and includes the featured talk, lunch, workshops and the street fair.

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