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Youngsters shown a slice of life as a scientist

Jaida Thomas, 9, was very attentive during an experiment to extract DNA from a strawberry.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Materials: one charter school, one biotech company with a few simple science experiments, and about 20 youngsters in grades three through six.

Directions: Set up three experiments that give the students the chance to see science up close and ask questions.

Results: one memorable day at the Boston Renaissance Charter Public School’s Summer Scholars program that will get students excited about science.

Representatives from Thermo Fisher Scientific visited the school Tuesday and demonstrated the experiments designed to “hook” students on science, as part of the company’s A Day in the Life of a Scientist program.

The three experiments were designed to give students a “hands-on” experience, Renaissance sixth-grade teacher Aaron Kesler said. In one experiment, students extracted the DNA of a strawberry; in another, they separated the different pigments in a black marker using chromatography paper. In the third, the students separated substances of varying densities with a centrifuge.


“It’s quick experiments; it’s something that’s quick and easy to understand and is really impactful for them,” Kesler said. “It’s definitely the hands-on approach, working together; collaborating with the scientist I think is what’s really beneficial for them to see.”

Students followed along as instructors from Thermo Fisher, a company that produces analytical and laboratory products and services, showed them how to perform each experiment.

“I liked the chromatography because it’s more artsy.” said 12-year-old Phalen Browne. “I like arts and science.”

Along with his classmates, Browne used a black marker to make a dot on a piece of chromatography paper. The students then dipped the paper in water, causing the various pigments that made up the black dot to travel with the water to create a colorful display on the paper.

Browne said he is interested in animal biology, but wants to be an engineer after he participated in the Thermo Fisher STEM Design Challenge last summer, in which teams of students built machines out of K’Nex, a toy building system of interlocking plastic pieces, to extract garbage from the ocean.


Kesler said the Renaissance Charter Public School and Thermo Fisher have a strong partnership going back to 2015, with the company putting on STEM-related programs for students and donating K’Nex kits and microscopes to the school.

“It’s an opportunity for us to teach the kids science from a new perspective, to give them a fun way to experience it, to ask silly questions, and hopefully build memories for them,” said Thermo Fisher project manager Josh Benz. “We think just reaching out and making more members of the community aware of what they’re learning, and why it’s important, is key.”

Keon Kerr, a recent graduate of Renaissance now entering seventh grade, said his favorite part of the day was extracting the DNA from a strawberry.

“I’ve never done that before,” he said. “I never knew the strawberry had DNA cells.”

Kerr said he still wants to be an Olympic athlete or a NASCAR driver when he grows up. Even so, educators hope programs like A Day in the Life of a Scientist will get students like him also excited about potentially becoming mathematicians and engineers.

“We want the kids to be interested in science and technology careers,” said Franklin Shearer, the school’s director of accountability and strategic planning. “They’re young, but knowing how much science and technology industries are present in the Boston area, it’s important for them to have exposure and develop their interest in science.”


Marek Mazurek can be reached at