February 5, 2017

Cornell Students Promote STEM to Local Kids

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Cornell students involved with the Inspiring Chemical Engineers club taught and conducted an experiment with polymers Saturday at the Ithaca Sciencenter, building awareness in science among children.

Inside the auditorium, dozens of children and their parents gathered to listen to Akash Vaidya ’18 explain how sodium alginate and calcium can be combined to produce squishy “snakes.”

Daniel Decorla ’18 said that the experiment was related to his on-campus research.

“We work with the Alabi research group at Cornell, which focuses on the creation of synthetic polymers,” he said.

After the lecture the event became more hands-on, as the children actively engaged in the experiment and produced “snakes” of all different sizes, shapes and colors.

This is not the first time the group has sought to educate a young audience. Akash recalled a similar demo that he did with the Alabi group at the New York State Fair last year. The experience led him to found ICE and organize more outreach events.

“It was really fun, the kids had a great time. … I thought that it was a fun way to teach science and get kids interested at a young age,” he said.

Vaidya, a chemical engineering major, said he was inspired to start ICE because of his lack of knowledge about chemical engineering in high school.

“Looking back to when I was in high school, I had no idea what chemical engineering was,” he said. “If my friends didn’t convince me to take intro to chemical engineering, I would have missed out on the opportunity to learn, only because of bias and lack of exposure. That is why we want to bridge that gap.”

Vaidya said that his own experience in learning about chemical engineering informs one of the club’s central goals.

“It is not only chemical engineering outreach per se, it really is outreach for all STEM fields,” he said. “We have to make sure that we are not losing talent in the sciences.”