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STEM Girls Experience A Day In The Life Of A CMCB Scientist

CMCB co-op students Hannah Varey and Sapna Karwal of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research helped the girls prepare their experiments.

YWCA Hamilton’s STEM Girls Club enjoyed a day of laughter and science at the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research (IIDR).

After a short introduction to the wonderful world of microbes, Centre for Microbial Chemical Biology (CMCB) co-op students Hannah Varey and Sapna Karwal assisted the eager young scientists with their first exciting activity, looking first-hand at how disinfectants protect us from potentially harmful bacteria. After applying various antimicrobials to bacteria-cultured Petri dishes and observing their abilities to clear them, the group further examined the abundant invisible life around them by applying the agents to the bacteria they sampled from their surrounding environment.

The spirited group then investigated epidemics through a dynamic “infection distribution experiment”. Each student was given a group of paper strips, one which was unknowingly “infected” with a colour-changing agent. The girls swapped their papers and documented their trades, making predictions about the infected source. Once the trading concluded, the girls dipped their papers into a colour-revealing solution at the “Infection Detection Station”, where the infected strips were indicated by a pale pink hue. Like true scientists, the girls contemplated amongst themselves about where the infection must have originated.

The scientific experience at the IIDR was the second for the STEM Girls Club – an after-school program launched by the YWCA Hamilton and funded by the Hamilton Community Foundation’s ABACUS initiative. The program, which works with the same group of girls for two years, aims to introduce middle-school girls from low-income families to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by creating opportunities for them to explore these subjects within their community. The program provides the girls with experience and guidance to boost their self-confidence, help them succeed in school, and inspire them to consider careers in STEM fields.

CMCB co-op students Sapna Karwal walks the STEM girls through their first experiment, looking at the power of common disinfectants.

Hosting the group for two consecutive years has not only been an incredible learning experience for the girls, but has been a great experience for the research staff at the IIDR. “It’s been a pleasure to help foster their educational experience and watch their interests and confidence in STEM fields grow” says Susan McCusker, CMCB lab technician. “They certainly have bright futures ahead”.

A special thanks to STEM Girls Club coordinator Ilana Allice and the IIDR’s CMCB research team for making this event possible.