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Junior High Girls Make Superballs, Check Rooster Pulses In Day At College Lab

April 19, 1989

AMHERST, Mass. (AP) _ Junior high school girls played with polymers, peered at a horse embryo and checked animal pulses in a day-long laboratory visit that Hampshire College teachers hope will persuade them to seek careers in science.

″We never did all this stuff in class,″ Tasha Galbreath, 13, of Springfield said Tuesday in a break from comparing a rooster’s pulse with her own. ″My mother even wanted to come today, but I told her she’s not coming.″

The annual ″Day in the Lab″ at the private college was started four years ago by women faculty members concerned about statistics showing fewer girls were choosing math and science courses.

″We wanted to show them science is something that women indeed do and something exciting and personal, not separated from their lives,″ said Merle Bruno, dean of natural sciences.

This year’s program was dedicated to Denice O’Neill, a pre-med student who played an integral part in the event until her death Dec. 22 in the crash of Pan Am Flight 103 in Scotland on her return from a semester abroad.

All three floors of the science building were decorated with balloons and turned over to the girls, who jumped rope and ran on treadmills to check their pulses, chewed gum to measure the rate at which sugar dissolves, heard lectures on AIDS and saw a horse fetus through an ultrasound machine at the nearby school farm.

Bruno said the college expected 30 girls in the program’s first year but got 117. This year, the number of preregistrations climbed over 200 as word spread about such seminars as ″Superballs and Slime″ and ″Blood ’n Guts.″

Several girls returned from previous years, bringing along friends, sisters and parents. East Longmeadow science teacher Richard Roz, who has participated three years, accompanied three students from his eighth-grade class, his daughter and two friends from her second-grade class.

″I’ve never worked with slime before,″ said Gina Potorski, one of Roz’ students, who mixed liquid polyvinyl alcohol and sodium borate into a putty. ″It’s cool.″

She later mixed sodium silicate and ethyl alcohol to make a high-bouncing polymer called a superball.

The college sends notices about the program to public and private schools in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties. The event falls during spring break for most junior highs.

Bruno said the college geared the program to junior high girls because they were at a crucial age in their education. ″Before junior high, all students test out the same in levels of performance, enthusiasm, aptitude,″ she said. ″In junior high, differences appear between boys and girls.″

One factor in the difference, she said, could be that girls are subtly discouraged from studying math and science, a pattern the program is intended to break.

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