MEGAMicrobe event shows children that science can be funSep. 22, 2022, 10:46 AM
by Bill Snyder
Four-year-old Kaydi Naylor was not shy.
When Jason Moeller held out the eastern chain kingsnake to a group of children, she was at the front of the line, fearlessly brushing her finger across the docile snake’s scaly skin.
Naylor was among more than 100 children who attended the “MEGAMicrobe Express” community science fair on Sept. 17 at the Warner Elementary Arts Magnet School in East Nashville.
The fifth annual event, hosted by the Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology and Inflammation (VI4), in partnership with Nashville Parent magazine, invited children under age 14 to conduct science experiments involving bacteria, viruses and other microbes, and to participate in hands-on activities and games.
Dozens of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty members at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and other science-minded volunteers, staffed 18 different stations, ranging from “Blast the Bugs,” about colon health, to “Shrinky Dink Cells,” a hands-on activity that taught children about the different parts of mammalian and plant cells.
Moeller, the snake handler, is an instructor at Nashville’s Adventure Science Center.
Other stations introduced children to advanced lab equipment and techniques including microscopy, crystallograph, and personal protective equipment, and invited them to build their own biofilm, a biological system of microbes.
“The (COVID-19) pandemic has taught us what a powerful impact microbiology can have on our society, but infections are just one of the many important roles that microbes play in our daily lives,” said VI4 director Eric Skaar, PhD, MPH, the Ernest W. Goodpasture Professor of Pathology.
“MEGAMicrobe gives us the opportunity to educate young people about the importance of microbes, while also sparking their interest in careers in science,” he said.
“Being able to influence even one young student and boost not only their interest but also their confidence in pursuing a career in STEM and microbiology makes a huge difference,” added associate VI4 director Maria Hadjifrangiskou, PhD, associate professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology.
“What I love about this event is that we move it every year and visit different schools, reaching a diverse student audience that may not otherwise have access to information about the existence of different careers in microbiology,” she said.