Bugs, Bach and Big Ideas at 2009 Open Space Stewardship Program Celebration

Open Space Stewardship Program celebrates student science projects with family and friends

BNL’s Berkner Hall was abuzz last Tuesday night as over 600 students, parents, friends and teachers besieged the Lab for the 3rd annual Open Space Stewardship Program Celebration. The hot topic of the evening was science literacy, and if the impressive level of the student posters and presentations was any indication, this year’s program was a success.

The evening began with an informal poster session in the lobby, where polished, well-dressed students ranging from the third to 12th grade displayed their science projects from the past year. Proud family members and other attendees milled about the tri-fold poster boards, enjoying light refreshments and the lovely playing of the Bellport High School String Quartet.

Open Space Stewardship Program

A hand-rung school bell signaled the start of the formal presentations, and for the next hour and a half, students from a select group of schools gave talks on subjects ranging from dragonfly mitochondrial DNA to the possibility of converting an elementary school building to solar power.

Many of the high school talks resembled those given by professional scientists at BNL conferences, complete with slides, plots and plans for future work, while the younger groups talked more about the experience of working on a real experiment, many for the first time. In all cases, the students seemed to enjoy presenting their work.

As one high school student overheard preparing for his talk put it, “the worst that can happen is that we explain too much.”

Due to the mission of the program — to inspire the next generation of environmentalists and environmentally literate citizens through hands-on research in the life sciences and conservation — all of the experiments somehow focused on better understanding or preserving the environment, particularly with regard to the valuable “open spaces” that exist on Long Island.

Another favorite aspect of the program for students was the use of Brookhaven equipment and expertise in the process of completing their experiments. In one session, a student from Sayville High School described the “BLASTN Analysis” test, which helps identify species relationships from genetic analysis, as being “kind of like a Google search for other organisms with similar DNA.”

Following the presentations, the crowd moved into the auditorium for a recognition and awards ceremony. Mel Morris, of the Office of Educational Programs (OEP), congratulated the over 2,000 students in Suffolk County who participated in the Open Space Program this year, and OEP Manager Ken White called for “a round of applause for these student scientists.”

Laboratory Director Sam Aronson took the stage next, observing that the celebration had convened “the biggest group of scientists this room has ever seen.” He praised the aims of the program, pointing out that the Open Space experience is “not only perfect training for those thinking of careers in the sciences, but also important for basic science literacy.”

John Carter, Department of Energy director of community affairs for BNL, echoed Aronson’s words, speaking of the importance of a scientifically educated public and wishing that “all government programs should be so fruitful as this one.”

Finally, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Regional Director Peter Scully lauded the program for its commitment to fostering environmental stewardship and for insuring that the $1.8 billion investment Long Island has made in open spaces will be protected far into the future.

“We own that commitment forever,” he said.

The final portion of the event included presenting each school with a certificate of recognition and a few Frisbees. A number of individuals and schools also received special awards for outstanding work with the program.

As teachers made their way to the stage, groups of students from the represented schools cheered loudly, creating an atmosphere more akin to a sporting event than a ceremony. Some educators half-heartedly attempted to shush their students, but no one in the audience really seemed to mind the noise.

After all, as Aronson had said earlier, science wouldn’t be worthwhile without a certain amount of child-like excitement.

“By all means have fun,” he said. “You have to have fun to want to come to work as a scientist every day.”

For more information on the Open Space Stewardship Program, including a list of the schools and organizations involved, see http://www.greenossp.org/ or contact Mel Morris at 631-344-5963.

2009-1289  |  INT/EXT  |  Newsroom