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New programs draws young artists into science

Fairbanks, AlaskaArtists and scientists often share a common goal: making the invisible visible. Yet artistically talented students, especially girls, often shy away from scientific careers. A new four-year, $1.2 million program led by the University of Alaska Fairbanks blends the art, biology and physics of color into a series of summer academies, science cafs and activity kits designed to inspire art-interested students to enter careers in science.

"Research suggests that girls who gravitate toward art often have strong visual-spatial abilities that would serve them well in science careers," said Laura Conner, project leader and director of outreach for the UAF College of Natural Science and Mathematics. "If you can connect them to science at an age when their own larger identity is developing, it's more likely that their interest in science will continue through life."

The program, Project STEAM: Integrating art with science to build science identities among girls, is a collaboration among Conner, a biologist, an astronomer and optics education expert at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Tucson, an education researcher at the University of Washington, Bothell and a curator-artist at the UA Museum of the North.

"Art and science both require passion, judgment, creativity and a willingness to understand previous ways of doing something as a basis for innovation," said Stephen Pompea from NOAO.

Conner and her collaborators will offer two-week, nonresidential summer academies and a series of science cafs in both Fairbanks and Tucson, Ariz., each year from 2013 to 2016.

"During the Colors of Nature academies we will explore color from the macro to the nano scale," said Conner. "The girls might start with a butterfly something at the macro scale and investigate why it has the colors it does. At the micro scale, we would look at the scales on butterfly wings to see how the colors are formed and experiment with mixing pigments and painting. At the nanoscale we would investigate technological applications and create nanostructures that interact with light and create varied colors."

The STEAM cafs will be informal and highly interactive events featuring female scientists whose research blends art and science. While the program's target audience is sixth to eighth graders, parents, teachers, youth leaders and the public are encouraged to come to the free presentations. "Parents who meet women in creative, rewarding scientific careers are more likely to encourage their daughters to enter science," Conner said.

Project leaders estimate they will reach 220 girls through the summer academies, 120 teachers through professional development workshops, 10,000 K-12 students through kits the project is developing and more than 6,000 parents, girls and other community members through the science cafs.


Contact: Marie Thoms
University of Alaska Fairbanks

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