Using sugar to stimulate girls’ interest in science

(Madeleine Wright, WPRI-TV)
(Madeleine Wright, WPRI-TV)

KINGSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — A University of Rhode Island assistant professor of chemistry launched a brand-new one-day class Wednesday for high school girls. It’s designed to show them how scientific reactions are spread throughout everyday life — by experimenting with sugar.

Assistant professor Mindy Levine is teaching the class. It’s the program’s first year. The students learned about chemical reactions by making their own rock candy, studied the amount of sugar in soft drinks and candies based on chromatography (the separation of mixtures), and examined what happens when gummy bears come into contact with certain chemicals. They also used liquid nitrogen to make ice cream.

Naturally, the students also got to eat their experiments.

Levine said she is trying to stimulate girls to get interested in science: “Mostly I want girls to know that science is applicable to their lives… that science is tangible, that affects their lives, that it’s interesting, and relevant to them.”

9th grader Skyler Rabidoux, a student at Bay View Academy, admitted she didn’t think sugar could be this scientific. Wednesday’s activities did help boost her interest in the science of the world; she said she likes learning “how everything lives and how everything’s intertwined — and how it’s always changing.”

“We need more girls to be interested in science, and to stay interested in science,” Levine said.

It may be 2016, but the scientific field is still dominated by men, and it can be discouraging for women. And images from pop culture persist in the collective consciousness, reinforcing that domination.

“You ask kids to draw a picture of a scientist, and it’s invariably a white male with white hair in a lab coat,” Levine said.

(Madeleine Wright, WPRI-TV)
(Madeleine Wright, WPRI-TV)

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