Last year we covered both of Janet Rowley’s high-profile trips to Washington, DC to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom and help that President expand federal funding for stem cell research. To start off 2010, we have another faculty member getting Obama honors, as famed fossil hunter Paul Sereno and Gabrielle Lyon’s Project Exploration receives one of 22 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science Mentoring at the White House today. Sereno and Lyon started the group in 1999 as a way to expose city kids to real science, whether through a scientist visiting their class or an actual expedition to the fossil fields of South Dakota.
With scientific literacy at scary-low levels in the United States, such programs are essential for educating the next generation of potential scientists. As Lyon’s recent editorial for the Huffington Post argued, opportunities for kids to meet scientists and conduct real research are even more scarce in urban environments, particularly when tight budgets force public schools to cut back on materials for science classes and laboratories (those dissection frogs aren’t cheap). At the Tribune (where my final story was on Project Exploration receiving today’s award), I loved covering the annual Chicago Public Schools Science Fair, finding kids from all over the city who had a growing passion for science…some of whom already had pretty impressive projects! It’s great to see Project Exploration and programs like Science Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry providing an outlet for these future researchers.
You can learn a lot more by cruising the excellent Project Exploration blog, where Lyon is updating live from the conference surrounding the award ceremony. One great program is Junior Paleontologists, which brought 14 Chicago Public Schools students to a fossil dig site in Hot Springs, South Dakota (so jealous). Or the Sisters4Science, where elementary school girls were visited by scientists from University of Chicago, UIC and the Willowbrook Wildlife Center to learn about urban wildife – in part by measuring live turtles. Or the Dinosaur Giants, where students train to be guides at the Field Museum, learning about science and then passing that knowledge on to other kids. Also: BoarCroc!
You can watch a live stream of the award ceremony at 12:30 central time here