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Science Expo breaks down scientist stereotypes for children

Max Brueseke looks through a telescope with the help of his father at the NC Science Expo on Saturday.
Max Brueseke looks through a telescope with the help of his father at the NC Science Expo on Saturday.

Dana Gelin, a spokeswoman for the UNC Department of Athletics, brought her 8-year-old daughter, Sawyer, to the Science Expo.

Gelin said it was a multifaceted exposition where children could play with bubbles, make molds of their fingers and have many other wonderful experiences.

“My favorite part is looking at things from the microscope,” Sawyer said.

Ralf Schmid, a research associate at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, also brought his son to the exposition.

“We’ve been coming to the Science Expo for the last at least four or five years. The kids always want to go back every year,” Schmid said.

The Science Expo was first held in 2010 as part of the North Carolina Science Festival.

“Since we were the ones producing the whole festival, it made sense for us to highlight all the science happening on campus at UNC. That’s why we started the expo,” said Todd Boyette, the director of the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center and co-founder of the Science Expo.

Boyette said for the first Science Expo, the booths and displays were scattered throughout McCorkle Place, but organizers found that people were not making their way to the science buildings for the lab tours.

“The big change was the decision three years ago to close Cameron Avenue,” Boyette said.

“It made everything compact. We had the stage set up. We added food trucks. It’s just more of a street festival feel.”

Duane Deardorff, a physics and astronomy lecturer at UNC and professional juggler, has participated in the Science Expo for several years. This year he did a stage performance called “Physics is Phun.”

“Part of the reason for my performance was to get people excited about difference aspects of science and give it a feel that can be fun and interesting but then also to connect with things that they may not have seen before,” Deardorff said.

Besides showing science to the public, the Science Expo also helps dismiss the stereotype of scientists.

Boyette said there’s an assessment that science educators have been doing for decades. Children are asked to draw pictures of a scientist. The scientists always look like Albert Einstein: somebody dressed in a lab coat with messy hair. That picture has not changed in decades, Boyette said.

“You can look at any of the people who have manned these booths. None of them look like Albert Einstein,” Boyette said.

“If all we do is break down that preconceived idea of what a scientist looks like, we’ve been successful.”

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