A Day as a Scientist: Take Your Child to Work Day

By Madison Reeley, WHK Student Intern; images by Sam Lopez, Associate Editor, and Chris Worthington, Editorial Supervisor
Take Your Child to Work Day event involving dry ice and a blowtorch.

Do you ever dream you could fight a fire, conduct fascinating experiments, and eat ice cream all in one day? A record number of kids—285 in all—got to do just that during the NCI at Frederick’s annual Take Your Child to Work Day.

“One of the goals at NCI is to foster the passion for science in any way,” said Austin Lajoie, Data Science and Information Technology Program (DSITP) intern, who coordinated the event’s volunteers. “This program gets kids interested in science so that they might consider a life in science and possibly come back here in the future.”

Programs allowed kids to explore the fun—and the discipline— that comes with being a scientist. At some stations, they conducted their own experiments. The children created bags of “worm goo” after becoming polymer chemists and squirting bottles of colored liquid sodium alginate into a calcium chloride solution to make the gooey links.

The kids also learned about science through seminars and lab tours. One seminar, presented by the National Museum of Health and Medicine, taught them about the human brain and let them hold a real human brain. From the looks on their faces, the experience ranged from sheer pleasure to utter disgust, and their shrieks—both of joy and surprise—could be heard outside the room.

After the kids were done acting like scientists, they had the opportunity to look the part. They posed for pictures with their heads through a cutout on a board that made them look like mad scientists, courtesy of Scientific Publications, Graphics, and Media. They frantically waved their pictures around, waiting for their photos to develop.

“The program is great because it sparks the kids’ creativity and scientific interest,” said Patrick Stalnaker, a Werner H. Kirsten student intern in the office of DSITP IT services and a volunteer at the event.

Emergency Services staff from the National Cancer Institute’s Bethesda campus also visited and helped with the day’s events, teaching kids about fire safety in a virtual fire simulation. It was such a big hit that many would extinguish the virtual flames then immediately get back in the line to do it again. The sweat pouring off the kids from the rush to repeatedly “save” the building made it look like they had just finished fighting a real fire.

“I had fun trying to beat my brother’s time in putting out the fire,” said one girl.

When the kids were ready to take a break from the lessons and simulations, they took part in outdoor activities and even got to play with animals. One of the most popular was a baby goat, which drew a crowd.

Another station served liquid nitrogen ice cream, a favorite among the event attendees. As volunteers added liquid nitrogen to a cream and sugar mixture to create the ice cream, fog billowed out of the bowl and around the table, adding a touch of mystery and excitement to the booth. The kids played in the mist as it crept toward them. Their excitement at watching the treat’s creation was great, but getting to eat the ice cream was the best part.

“I think it’s better than real ice cream,” one boy stated.

The day also featured a series of contests, including the Hub Prize drawing. At the beginning of the day, the kids received activity booklets that challenged them to collect stamps from every activity they visited. Those who collected the most were entered into the drawing. This year, there were seven lucky winners: Jay Gulati, Savanah Phebus, Bella Poffenburger, Elijah Roberts, Neil Sahay, Emma Smith, and Tess Warner.

By the end of the day, the energetic kids had worn out most of the NCI at Frederick participants, although many staff members were thrilled with how the day went.

“This year’s event was comprised of 19 programs and 17 hub activities, and had the largest turnout ever,” said Marsha Nelson-Duncan, education outreach specialist, Office of Scientific Operations. “[This] could not be done without the willingness of staff and volunteers to provide such fantastic learning opportunities for the kids, as well as the behind-the-scenes work leading up to the event. I would like to thank everyone who participated to make this year such a success.”

Apparently, the volunteers’ efforts and exhaustion were worth it. When asked about the event, the kids said they enjoyed their scientific adventure. They learned a lot from their day of science, and many became interested in their parents’ jobs.

“My mom works with mice,” said one boy. “I wish she could bring them home with her.”

Many kids were already talking about returning next year, and some even seemed ready to begin their career in science.

Kids enjoyed petting goats at the 2017 Take Your Child to Work Day event. With help from a firefighter, kids used a real hose to put out a simulated fire. Service dogs were popular with the attendees of the 2017 Take Your Child to Work Day.