Published October 31, 2018
Eight-year-old Domenic Moran looked skeptical when Natalie Lamb said she was going to use rubbing alcohol to produce visible strawberry DNA.
Lamb, a graduate student at University at Buffalo’s Department of Biochemistry and a member of the UB Genome, Environment and Microbiome (GEM) Community of Excellence outreach team, held a test tube containing a mashed strawberry and slowly filled it with alcohol. Instantly, a milky fluid loaded with white strands and particles rose to the top of the tube.
“Ewww,” said Domenic. “It’s disgusting.” But after a few more of minutes talking with Lamb, he acknowledged that the demonstration had, in fact, been “kind of cool.”
Domenic was one of nearly 250 area children and adults who attended the second “Tricks, Treats and Science Discoveries: Free Family-Fun and Learning Fair” at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences on a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon, October 27.
The free, three-hour event, a co-production of UB’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), GEM, the Patient Voices Network, UB Department of Family Medicine, Jacobs School and the Fruit Belt Coalition, brought families from the neighborhoods surrounding the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to the recently opened Jacobs School building for an afternoon of fun and learning. Activities for children included interactive science activities, trick-or-treating, face-painting, games and prizes. There were health screenings for heart attack and stroke risk, and information on healthy behaviors and risk avoidance for parents and caregivers, all provided by the UB School of Nursing-led Million Hearts Initiative.
This year’s event was almost double the size of the 2017 fair, said Megan Wilson-Crowley, MPA, community research facilitator, CTSI Community Engagement, a lead organizer of the planning committee for this year’s fair. In addition to the increased attendance this year, community and university groups staffed approximately 30 interactive stations to entertain and inform the participants, up from about a dozen last year.
Organizers distributed flyers in the community and hung door hangers around the neighborhood to spread the word about the event.
“Tricks, Treats and Science Discoveries” is one of several CTSI initiatives designed to engage people from the community around the medical campus and help educate them about their health, encourage them to participate in research and advocate for themselves.
“We want to let them know that this is their place, too,” said Wilson-Crowley, who noted that this year’s planning committee, which was made up of four university groups and two community groups, used feedback from last year’s participants to plan this year’s bigger, better event.
“Our goal is to put together events for the community that the community helps to plan,” she said.
As Wilson-Crowley moved on to consult with some volunteers, two children, dressed as Peppa Pig and a purple Crayola crayon, ran by in the Jacobs School’s second-floor M&T Bank Atrium. They were headed for LeadSafe Erie County’s “Germ City” display, at which kids learned about the spread of germs with the help of some fluorescent paint and a black-light-filled tent.
Around the corner in the atrium, students from UB’s School of Nursing offered blood pressure checks and calculated Body Mass Index for adults in attendance. Students from the Pharmacy School handed out plastic pill cases for traveling with medications as well as “vials of health” – large prescription bottles designed to hold information about a person’s health conditions should an EMT ever need to be called.
“This event lets people know that there is a chance for them to do something for their health,” said Barb Stuart, an Ambassador with Patient Voices Network. “Many people don’t know what’s out there to help them advocate for themselves.”
Maria Baretto, a resident of Buffalo’s West Side who brought several grandchildren and great nieces and nephews to the fair, agreed.
“It’s a wonderful event for families,” she said. “It keeps the kids happy and entertained, and it’s informative for the adults, too. I’m going to volunteer next year,” she said, as her young charges took a break from the activities to dig through sponsor-provided tote bags for their favorite snacks.
Elsewhere in the atrium, volunteers from UB Physical Therapy encouraged children to “Get Moving” by leading them through a variety of stretches and enticing them to jump through hula hoops.
Nearby, UB Archeological Survey’s “Dig for Artifacts!” station allowed youthful participants to use their hands to search through a sand-filled box for a 2,000-year-old arrowhead, a 500-year-old piece of Iroquois pottery and present-day nickel.
At the Chemistry Department’s station, children learned about crystal engineering, and were given alum samples and encouraged to grow their own crystals at home and enter them in a contest for cash prizes.
Timothy F. Murphy MD, director of CTSI, dressed as the Transformer Optimus Prime, visited with young participants and took “selfies” with several of them. “I’m thrilled with the good turnout from the neighborhood,” Murphy said, adding that he was impressed by the enthusiasm of the participants staffing the stations, who had given up a Saturday to be a part of the event.
Other activities at “Tricks, Treats and Science Discoveries” included:
“Community-focused events such as the Tricks, Treats and Science Discoveries fair, are an excellent way to invite Buffalo and Western New York families to join UB in a dialogue about the impact of science and research on health and social outcomes,” said Bridget Brace-MacDonald, EdM, Director of Outreach Activities for GEM and member of the event planning team. “And it was simply wonderful to see the UB science community – students, faculty, and staff – come together and get so creative!”
As the event drew to a close, children and adults made their way to the atrium’s entrance, where tables loaded with apples and bananas donated from Desiderios, doughnut holes, Goldfish crackers, apple cider and bottled water were set up, surrounded by empty tables where families could socialize. The event ended with the awarding of roughly 50 donated family-friendly raffle baskets to smiling participants.