Scientists Have All the Fun at STEAMabration 2017

Citizen Science Lab gathered the major players in Pittsburgh’s STEM Ecosystem for one outstanding back-to-school bonanza.

A ball python, sand colored with diamonds on its back, slowly coils around 11-year-old Boy Scout Ian Alexander’s wrists.

“I love snakes,” he says. “I found one this morning in my yard when I went looking for crickets to feed my turtle.”

Nearby, his brother Aiden, 8, pets a leopard gecko, but soon moves on, lured to the next exhibit where kids are learning how to build electric circuits with educators from the Remake Learning network.

“They love anything involving nature,” Bernard Alexander, the boys’ father, explains. “That’s why events like these are so great.”

The event is the second annual STEAMabration festival held by Citizen Science Lab. Under a row of tents shading visitors from the sun, dozens of hands-on, interactive curiosities invite people to think differently, try something new, and experience the joy and wonder of science.

Held at the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, the STEAMabration is a free public event that combines the best parts of a block party (food trucks, DJs, 50/50 raffles) with memorable learning experiences you won’t see anywhere else. There’s a human wrecking ball game for teenagers, a thirty-foot-tall inflatable waterslide and a squirt gun maze for younger kids, and hands-on activities for early learners and their families.

A Multi-Purpose Robot Manipulator invented by CMU graduate John Choi obeys human orders. Duquesne’s START-Play undergrads hack toys to make them accessible for kids with disabilities. Shimira Williams, founder of Beauty of STEM, demonstrates the science and math underlying fashion, dazzling otherwise uninterested girls with conductive thread that makes tutu skirts light up. A drone drifts through the sky, exotic fish swim in a hydroponic aquarium, Covestro employees show preschoolers how to make hovercraft balloons, and Penn State Extension graduates help visitors create sparkling geodes, a DIY craft they call “kitchen sink science.”

“It’s all about exposure and making these opportunities available right before the school year starts so that they’re fresh in kids’ minds,” says Dr. Andre Samuel, Citizen Science Lab’s Director and the visionary behind STEAMabration. “We’re bringing together all the key players in biotech and hands-on science to excite the community. We want Citizen Science Lab to be a national model. We want to be the YMCA of STEM.”

Citizen Science Lab has been providing middle- and high-schoolers with state-of-the art laboratory space and equipment “in order to spark interest in STEM and STEAM professions” since 2015. Community visitors, homeschool groups, after school clubs and others go there to use fluorescent microscopes, centrifuges, or the lab’s tissue culture facility, among other resources, for hands-on experimentation under the instruction of qualified scientists.

“I’ve had ninth-grade girls who wanted to go into cosmetology when they started with us,” says Holy Family Academy’s Head of School, Lisa Abel-Palmieri. “But now, after attending Citizen Science Lab once a week for a school year, they’re determined to become engineers.”

“Too often kids are intimidated by science,” says Carlosa Roberts-Jackson, one of Citizen Science Lab’s interns and a full-time biotechnology chemist, as she monitors the stream of children sloshing down the waterslide. “That’s why we bring it to them,” she adds. “We make science fun.”

Published August 31, 2017

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