You don’t have to look like Einstein

By Lee Anna Sherman

The lecture hall overflows with middle-school girls and their parents one Saturday morning in February. Images flash across three big screens at the front of the room. Suddenly, a giant face of Albert Einstein pops up, filling the screens with the scientist’s wild white hair and huge, fuzzy mustache.

(Photo: Karl Maasdam)
(Photo: Karl Maasdam)

“A lot of people think you have to look like this to be a scientist!” says Professor Sujaya Rao, pointing at Einstein. A giggle ripples through the room.

Professor Rao is here to dispel that stereotype. An entomologist (bug scientist) who studies pollinators, like bumble bees and honey bees, as well as pests that damage crops, Rao wants young girls to know that science is wide open to them. That’s why she and other women at Oregon State University, students as well as professors, are devoting their Saturday to being role models and encouraging girls to consider careers in science and engineering.

About 120 girls from all over the state of Oregon participated in the annual science workshop for girls, Discovering the Scientist Within. “We collected information on schools and towns where they came from,” Rao reports. “Some came from Burns and Hines and Jewell and places I had never heard of!”

The discovery began with an engineering challenge: build a catapult. After teams of five or six girls had finished fashioning their catapults from wood and rubber bands, they tested their inventions by launching cotton balls as far as they could fly.

After that, the girls headed across campus to visit labs of their choice. At one lab, students learned about amphibians in the Northwest from graduate students Lindsey Thurman and Jennifer Rowe, a duo that calls itself “Women of Wildlife.”

First they gave a presentation about all sorts of frogs, newts and salamanders — including a weird video in which a bullfrog eats a poisonous newt and dies instantly from the poison, after which the newt triumphantly emerges from the dead bullfrog and walks away. Then the girls got to handle and feed the live amphibians living in lab.

(Photo: Karl Maasdam)
(Photo: Karl Maasdam)

At another lab, the girls built and tested blades for a model wind turbine. They generated wind with a big fan, and then measured the voltage produced by their blades. Kari van Zee, who was leading the lab, helped them rethink their designs to produce more electricity.

Discovering the Scientist Within is sponsored by the OSU Provost’s Office, the SMILE Program, STEM Academy (formerly Saturday Academy), Scientists and Teachers in Education Partnerships, 4-H Youth Development, the Women’s Center, and Pre-college Programs.


Read a story and see photos from the Discovering the Scientist Within workshop in the Corvallis Gazette-Times.