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Future Einsteins at camp

(MCT) – Explosions went off in a classroom at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s new Sorrell Center for Health Science Education, but security guards found only a lesson in progress.

A group of middle school students from the Winnebago, Rosebud and Yankton Native American reservations were welcomed July 26 to the school’s science camp with a demonstration on how to build a rocket out of a two-liter bottle and some chemicals.

The camp, which ran through July 29, was created using the $1.3 million Science Education Partnership Award grant, now in its fourth of five years. The camp aims to strengthen the math and science education of Native American youths from Nebraska and South Dakota.

Dr. David Wilson, a Navajo scientist working at the National Institute of Health, said it was satisfying to see students return from past years. The camp changes its curriculum every year, with a focus on real-world application and the notion that science can be found everywhere.

On July 27, a group of eight students learned about forensics investigations from former FBI agent Michael T. Hanna. They learned to identify evidence using a microscope. Among the questions faced: How could they tell cat hair from a woman’s hair, or blood from ketchup?

They also learned to lift fingerprints using powder and tape. Each student wore a plastic gown and rubber gloves and brushed over a beaker, searching for a specimen.

“I feel like Albert Einstein,” Rowena Metcalf said. The 13-year-old is going into seventh grade at St. Francis Indian School in South Dakota. Metcalf and classmates Darien Quick Bear, 12, and Timara Little Shield, 12, arrived in Omaha for the first time July 26.

Agnes Warner, 12, who will be in sixth grade in the fall at St. Augustine Indian Mission School in Winnebago, Neb., said she came to the camp because she wants to be a detective. She first became interested in investigations when she read “Jigsaw Jones” books with her parents.

The camp hopes to help students unearth that same seed of curiosity about science.

The lessons also have the goal of demystifying science, said Maurice Godfrey, UNMC associate professor of pediatrics and the principal investigator on the grant.

“Most people, even teachers, are afraid of science,” Godfrey said. “It’s our job to let them know science is no great mystery. It’s all around you.”

After the fingerprinting, Hanna turned off the lights and revealed ultraviolet powders using a black light. The students oohed and aahed.

“That,” Wilson said, “is what you’re hoping for.”

(c) 2009, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.