Let’s Talk Science’s Spooky Science Family Night

Let's Talk Science Coordinators Rebecca Van Ginkel, Rachel Rubin and Richard Jung dress up as elements from the Periodic Table of Elements. Photo Credit: Jasmine Frost

On Friday night, Oct. 24, the atrium of the Engineering complex was alive with excitement. Dressed in costumes, volunteers engaged children from grades four to nine in exciting, hands-on science activities with a Halloween twist. The event attracted approximately 200 Winnipeg children and parents to learn how to extract DNA from pumpkin innards, make “radioactive” slime using household products, sew a “scary” microbe, and learn about microbial anatomy using pipe cleaners and felt.

Who were these mad scientists dazzling participants with fun, educational activities? Let’s Talk Science is a national non-profit science outreach organization passionate about science literacy. Let’s Talk Science volunteers are University of Manitoba students from the faculties of science, engineering, business, art, and education.
This was the third annual Spooky Science Family Night.

“We started Spooky Science [Family] Night in 2012 and had 100 children and parents attended. Last year, in 2013, the number grew to 200. We are hoping for a similar turnout this year,” said Richard Jung, a site co-ordinator for Let’s Talk Science’s U of M branch

One of their most popular activities, Pumpkin DNA, involves children crushing pumpkin slime in a plastic sandwich baggy. This is a modification of their Strawberry DNA activity.
“You break up the cells mechanically like this,” explained the volunteer. The children were then instructed to add a mixture of dish detergent and water to break through the fatty cell layer. After filtering the mixture into a small plastic cup, the volunteer added isopropyl alcohol while the child was instructed to stir the solution with a stick. Semi-transparent white goo began to collect.

“That’s DNA!” a volunteer explained as a child observed closely.

In addition to the myriad science activities made available in the atrium, a Chemistry Magic Show took place at regular intervals throughout the evening – complete with liquid nitrogen, dry ice, and fire. The children shrieked with joy at the science happening before their eyes.

When the University of Manitoba branch of Let’s Talk Science was founded in 1999, they had as few as 10 members at the beginning. Fifteen years later, a six-person co-ordinating team and 200 volunteers work together to deliver presentations, workshops, and activities to over 13,000 students across Manitoba.

Spooky Science Family Night is just one of many of their exciting events Let’s Talk Science has planned for next year. There is no lack in diversity, with rural outreach, mall events, classroom activities, a high school summer camp, and, currently in the planning stages, the CancerTalk High School Symposium.

“We are partnering with the Winnipeg Jets True North Foundation to plan the CancerTalk High School Symposium,” said Jung. “It will be a fun day where students will have the opportunity to listen to leading researchers and oncologists debate, participate in ethical discussions, and visit a research facility.”

Jung hopes that showcasing the leading research in the province will show these students how much science has progressed in the battle against cancer. He hopes this experience may help students understand cancer and influence some of them to someday pursue a career in oncology to fight the disease themselves.

“Cancer is a disease that impacts every generation,” Jung remarked.

From grade four children discovering how to extract DNA from pumpkin slime under the instruction of a volunteer wearing face paint, to high school students listening to leading researchers debate and discuss their research, Let’s Talk Science’s breadth and impact is impressive.

To learn more about Let’s Talk Science, their volunteer opportunities, or upcoming events, contact the co-ordinating team at lts.uofm@gmail.com