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Making ice cream with third-graders may be a fun way to pass those long days, but it can also be an exciting way to teach them about the phases of matter. Add a little liquid nitrogen, and it gets even better! Over the last 3 years BASIS volunteer Leah Witus has helped coordinate 16 classroom visits, exploring gasses, liquids, and solids with over 350 3rd grade students. “I love seeing how excited kids get from watching dry ice sublime and flowers shatter after being frozen in liquid nitrogen,” says Leah.
Leah knows how much presentations like these can inspire a child. She still remembers a liquid nitrogen demonstration she saw in elementary school. “Dry ice and liquid nitrogen are substances we use in the laboratory regularly, but it would be hard for a teacher to get access to them so I’m glad that we get to show kids something they may have never seen or heard of before.”
Leah says these experiences in schools and seeing first-hand how much background knowledge students have in science, has helped reinforce her commitment to science outreach in public schools. “My hope is by helping more kids experience the fun side of science, they will be more inclined consider studying it in the future.” Leah’s favorite part of class is at the end when students shout “YEAH!” when asked if ‘science is cool’.
As an undergrad at Rice University, Leah participated in a number of science outreach programs presenting fun chemistry demos for elementary school kids and the public. What she appreciates about volunteering with BASIS in particular is the opportunity to write her own lesson plans. “I really like how you have the ability to choose any science topic that you’re interested in. It was a great learning experience to work with the guidance of CRS staff to turn a demonstration into an interactive lesson plan and tailor it to an appropriate grade level.”
In addition to teaching in classrooms, Leah is also one of CRS’s Campus Volunteer Coordinators and, along with fellow Chemistry PhD candidate and campus coordinator Kristen Seim, has helped to form the campus Steering Committee and reach out to twenty-one science programs at UC Berkeley.
When asked about what sparked her own interest in science Leah answered, “I’ve been lucky enough to receive a great science education through good teachers and mentors so I love opportunities to give back and share some of that specialized knowledge with others. ”
Leah is about to complete her 5th year in the Francis Laboratory researching ways to synthesize protein-based nanomaterial for applications such as targeted drug delivery and light –harvesting devices that mimic photosynthesis. She’s currently applying for postdoctoral research positions in Chemistry.