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Yale Science Saturdays: Bringing the Excitement of Science to Everyone


Yale University is excited to announce the program of Science Saturdays, a special series designed for the family, that brings the excitement of research and the passion of scientists to school-age children in New Haven. The series begins March 31 and continues on four successive Saturdays through the month of April.

The public is invited to participate in these special demonstrations on topics that are appropriate for children in 7th grade and above. The programs are free of charge and run from 10:30 a.m. to noon in Davies Auditorium of Yale University at 15 Prospect Street.

The program, designed to shatter stereotypes about science and scientists, and to focus on topics that are both fun and challenging, was created by Ainissa G. Ramirez and is co-hosted by Erin Lavik, both members of the engineering faculty at Yale.

“Science is fun,” Ramirez declares “Understanding how things work and inventing and creating new possibilities are basic benefits of being a scientist. This program aims to show that and show off a few of the areas that are making news now.”

The Spring program includes:

March 31: “Magnets, Molecules and Radio Waves: Using Magnetic Resonance To Image Molecules, Cells and The Human Body” by chemist Kurt Zilm.

Physicists invented magnetic resonance spectroscopy 60 years ago to measure fundamental properties of the elements. Typical of the way that serendipity guides scientific advances, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has instead become indispensable for determining the structures of molecules and for imaging the human body. Professor Zilm will show how radio waves and magnets are used to listen to these molecular signals, and how they can be exploited to image cells, guide oil-well drilling, determine the structures of large molecules, and even detect contraband in airport security.

April 7: “How Fruit Flies Find Bananas and How Mosquitoes Find Us” by biologist John Carlson.

Insects transmit disease to hundreds of millions of people each year and cause enormous losses to the world’s food supply. Many insects find the humans and plants on which they feed through their sense of smell. Major advances have been made recently in understanding insect olfaction that give us new opportunities for the control of insect pests. Professor Carlson will show the importance of working with fruit flies for devising new ways to combat mosquitoes and the malaria they spread in many parts of the world.

April 14: “Scents and Sensibility: The Molecular Mechanisms of Olfaction” by neuroscientist Charles Greer.

The sense of smell, or the olfactory system, detects molecules that give us cues about our environment, food sources and territorial boundaries. In addition, these cues contribute to our interactions in social settings as well as our selection of mates. Over the past 15 years, there have been exceptional advances in our knowledge of the cellular and molecular basis of olfaction that have helped us to understand how we make sense of scents. Professor Greer will review the structure and the function of the olfactory system and use a few simple experiments to emphasize the important roles it plays in our lives.

April 21: “Metals With Memories and Other Smart Materials” by materials scientist Ainissa G. Ramirez.

Smart materials respond to their environment by changing the energy they encounter into another form. For example, there are metals that exhibit a memory and will return to their original shape when heated. This behavior is based on the motion of atoms from one arrangement to another. When heat is applied, atoms shift positions and the metal moves. These materials can be found in thermostats, temperature-regulating faucets, and even in pieces of art. Professor Ramirez will discuss the mechanisms behind these mysterious materials and look at applications that exist on Lilliputian devices such as micromachines. She will also discuss other types of smart materials that are part of our everyday world.

Ramirez, a much honored material scientist, has fostered this program each semester since the Fall of 2004 and has been overwhelmed by the great response from teachers, parents, children and even professors who have asked to be part of this program. Yale honored Ramirez and the Science Saturdays program with the Elm-Ivy Award.

“It is exciting and tremendously rewarding to see the response this program has received from Yale and New Haven,” said Ramirez. “I am still surprised when people stop me on the street to say that they enjoyed the program or particular demonstrations. Having the programs rebroadcast on our local CTV was a first step in expanding the program. We are looking for ways to branch out and reach more people,”

The program is supported in part by the National Science Foundation, the Yale Faculty of Engineering, the National Society of Black Engineers, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Yale Scientific Magazine, Tau Beta Pi, and Scienceworks. More information is available by email from Ainissa Ramirez or online at:


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