OMRF welcomes Putnam City junior scientists

2 months ago
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OKLAHOMA CITY — Most people know that no two humans have the same DNA. But did you realize that’s true for strawberries, too?

That was one lesson learned by fifth-graders Zunaira Guffer and Henrietta Robinson, two of about 30 Putnam City Schools students who conducted science experiments this week at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

OMRF hosted the students Tuesday and Wednesday for Junior Scientist Days, an annual event that gives Putnam City students a chance to meet researchers and try hands-on experiments in OMRF’s labs.

The event dates to 1979, soon after the district created the Putnam City Cancer Drive and designated OMRF as the beneficiary. Since then, students, teachers and parents have raised nearly $4 million for cancer research at OMRF. Junior Scientist Days is an opportunity to thank the district and encourage students to pursue a science career.

Teachers select one student per school, using criteria ranging from essays to classroom performance to interest in science. Students are paired with one of a dozen OMRF scientists, each of whom picks their own experiment.

Scientist Audrey Cleuren, Ph.D., chose the fruit DNA project. Zunaira and Henrietta pulverized two strawberries and mixed the resulting pink goo with salt, liquid dish soap, rubbing alcohol and purified water. They then used specialized lab equipment to mix the concoction into the perfect consistency to make the DNA visible.

“Sometimes science is like being a magician, in that you get to peek behind the curtain and see how an experiment works,” said Cleuren, who, when she’s not helping aspiring scientists analyze the genes of berries, studies the cells that comprise the lining of blood vessels.

“This looks so cool!” exclaimed Zunaira, a student at Ralph Downs Elementary who aspires to be a neuroscientist, as she held a beaker. “This has completely blown away my expectations.”

“I expected it to just be a tour,” added Henrietta, a student at James L. Downs Elementary who imagines she may become a dentist one day. “So, to actually be able to do experiments was great.”

Donations from Putnam City schools have supported numerous OMRF cancer projects over the past five decades. Those include research that led to an experimental brain cancer drug now undergoing clinical trials at the OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center.

“We are in awe of the decades of continuous support we’ve received from the Putnam City School District,” said OMRF’s Katherine Jackson, who coordinates the event. “We look forward to Junior Scientist Days every year, because it reminds us what it’s like to be a kid and see science come alive.”…Read more by Special to The Banner

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