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Lunch With A Scientist

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The students take notes and fire one question after another. "Are you the boss of the laboratory?'' "Do I need to be good at math in order to become a doctor?'' "Do electrons move as fast as the speed of light?'' "Can you get cancer from a microwave?'' They pause only to sip their grape juice or lick pizza sauce from their fingers.

The mealtime meeting is a small part of an unusual learning experience developed by Chicago-area teachers and scientists at Argonne. The project, inspired by the public television series The New Explorers, is designed to expose students to science and scientists and to serve as a model for partnerships between schools and scientific institutions nationwide.

Daucenia Hunter, Geraldine Blakely, and the other teachers and scientists who brainstormed together on the project thought that students might become interested in a science career if they could find out directly from scientists how and why they became scientists and what they like about their jobs. One way to encourage that kind of dialogue is to take the students to the scientists.

Most adults wouldn't think that a group of inner-city kids would delight in sharing a meal and serious conversation with a grown-up. But clearly Myron's trio and their classmates are loving it.

During the morning, the girls were eager participants in a number of hands-on experiments Myron ran them through in his laboratory. After lunch, they will embark on a tour of some of the world's most sophisticated scientific instruments.

Teachers say their students are impressed that scientists are willing to interrupt their busy routines to spend time with them. Folake Kehinde and Brian Griffin, two high school sophomores who visited Argonne last spring, still remember their lunch-time interviews. Folake recalls that talking one-onone with a scientist really gave her a "boost.'' "Whether or not you're interested in science,'' she says, "it's nice to be exposed to different kinds of careers.''

Brian notes another positive outcome of the program: It gives innercity teens contact with positive role models. "You're not around doctors and lawyers,'' he says. "You need to have role models around so you can understand what it takes to get higher. You need to know that you can't just slide through school.''

The whole experience helps students break down the stereotype that scientists are "nerdy old men,'' Hunter says. "The scientists become human.'' She tells how shocked her students were to discover that one female researcher was a wife and mother, as well as a scientist.

Today, seven Argonne staffers are lunching with this class of 7th graders. Excitement is clearly visible in the sparkling eyes of the three Holy Angels' girls. And Myron, too, seems to be enjoying himself. He is telling them that he was never very good at learning French when their teacher announces that it's time to go. As they leave, Myron reminds them that the country needs new scientists and doctors. "Twenty years from now,'' he says with a grin, "I want to hear that you're doing great things.''

Three girls in brown plaid skirts and white blouses beam.---M.K.

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