Smashing frozen flowers, delving into cancer cells and smashing strawberries for DNA — it's all in a day's work during the 35th Putnam City Junior Scientist Days at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
In 1976, after seeing a number of her colleagues diagnosed with cancer, Putnam City Schools teacher Lois Thomas gathered a group and went door to door, collecting change for cancer research. Over the past three-plus decades, students, teachers and parents have raised more than $3.08 million for cancer research at OMRF.
In gratitude for decades of support, each year medical research foundation opens its doors to promising science students from the district for Putnam City Junior Scientist Days. This week, 18 elementary students and 16 middle and high school students spent a day inside OMRF's high-tech labs, learning about research by working with scientists.
“It was gross and cool!” said Ann George, 10, a fifth-grader at Northridge Elementary School. “We were testing heart and liver tissue from rats. It was great.”
She came in wanting to be an astronomer when she grew up, but by lunch she was ready to switch to a career in medical research.
“Putnam City Junior Scientist Days at OMRF continue to be a huge value for our students,” Putnam City Schools Superintendent Paul Hurst said. “Students who take part already have the experience in school of taking a personal role in the fight against cancer. To then spend time with medical researchers and see how high-level science is conducted is such a bonus.”
For Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientists, Junior Scientist Days provide a chance to inspire a lifelong passion for learning in the next generation of scientists.
“Science requires brains and drive and critical thinking skills,” said OMRF President Dr. Stephen Prescott. “But enthusiasm is the lifeblood of research. That's something these students and scientists share — an excitement for learning something nobody has ever known before.”
The excitement has been fueled by funds raised through bake sales, talent shows, soccer tournaments and 5k runs. The generosity of Putnam City Schools has allowed the purchase of laboratory equipment and creation of the Putnam City Distinguished Chair in Cancer Research, held by OMRF scientist Linda Thompson.
OMRF is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institute dedicated to understanding and developing more effective treatments for human diseases.
Greg Elwell is public affairs specialist for the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.