Mid-GLAM Camp Exposes Middle School Girls to Materials Science and Engineering

A Mid-GLAM camper plays with the color changing slime she made.

July 11, 2018

What better way to get a bunch of middle school girls excited about Materials Science and Engineering than to let them explore color and making things pretty? That’s exactly what Mid-GLAM, named after its sister camp GLAM (Girls Learn About Materials) did by exposing them to different hands-on activities and design challenges.

Mid-GLAM is a summer day camp for middle school girls interested in learning about Materials Science and Engineering. Orchestrated by the camp’s co-directors, Materials Science and Engineering (MatSE) Assistant Professors Cecelia Leal and Robert Maass, it made its second annual debut from June 25–June 29 and served students from all over the state.

Mid-GLAM camp co director Robert Maass interacts with a camper during the Making-Stuff-Stronger session.

Maass explains why the camp is important. “Mid-GLAM is a wonderful occasion to discuss and explain science in a casual way to a non-academic audience that is very interested. I actually get more questions during Mid-GLAM than at a conference—and of course they are of a different kind. I very much enjoy the open-minded spirit the girls have. Everything is possible, and no prior scientific knowledge restricts them from asking anything they wonder about. Of course, my hope is that some of them decide later to follow a scientific or engineering career. In many years, we know if we really made a change with Mid-GLAM.”

A Mid-GLAM camper works on annodyzing titanium.

Instead of admission being on a first come, first served basis for local area middle school girls, it was opened up to include 20 girls from middle schools across Illinois and was also based on a paragraph written by the students about why they wanted to participate in the Mid-GLAM camp.

The theme of this year’s camp was how to make things better. The topics included were Making Stuff Stronger, Making Stuff Smarter…Cleaner…Faster…Safer…Prettier…and Colorful.

Each morning, students were able to see demonstrations, videos, and participate in hands-on activities pertaining to the selected topic of the day. After lunch, they participated in design challenges that focused on that subject and learned how to make them better. This year, Making Stuff Colorful and Making Stuff Prettier were added to the camp’s schedule.

Assistant Professor Cecelia Leal (second from left) speaks with Mid-GLAM campers about their gumdrop structure.

Leal elaborates on this saying: “Last year we did making stuff stronger, cleaner, smaller, and smarter. This year, based on feedback and how it worked last year, we are including a whole new day that is called making things colorful,” says Leal. “Color is pretty and fun, but it is useful too, so we wanted to tap into that concept, [and add] a whole new day of color.”

Making Things Colorful was added to the agenda when Professor Renske Van der Veen joined the Mid-GLAM team because she does a lot of work with color.

Students were able to figure out how to change the color of materials to make them pretty, but they were also able to learn about why color is important in materials science.

The main takeaway, Leal says, is that “Color is very important in our lives.”

Color coding is used in stoplights to associate red and green with stop and go, an example of how color is used in our everyday lives. Another way color can be used is for sensing. A device can be programmed to change color when you sweat to tell you that your blood sugar is low or that you may have cancer.

Jill Carbone (second from left) helps a camper add glitter to her slime.

How do you get these young girls interested in the applications using materials science? One way to do that is to broaden one piece of a concept and apply it to something fun and engaging for the students. Jill Carbone, a rising junior in MatSE who also helped out with the GLAM camp, acknowledges this idea by saying:

“In high school, [the students] have had backgrounds in biology. They’ve had backgrounds in chemistry, to an extent. They probably haven't taken physics yet, but for the most part they have some sort of small foundation of science to build off of so we can explain the concepts to them and get them really interested. In middle school, they don't know a lot yet about the building blocks of science, but we can get them excited and exposed to it which is the biggest thing.”

Mid-GLAM campers work on their gumdrop structure.

This is exactly what was done during the Making Stuff Prettier activity.

The girls explored the concept of thermochromics during the activity when the slime they made changed colors as it was cooled. This activity was especially favored by participant Katie Delaney, who came to Mid-GLAM because she thought it would be fun and could meet new friends.

A Mid-GLAM camper, Gianna Cannek.

Earlier that day, the girls got involved in another hands-on activity related to Making Stuff Colorful, which piqued the interest of one of the other participants.

Although she hadn’t read the Dr. Seuss book that popularized the non-Newtonian fluid, participant Gianna Cannek said her favorite activity was making ooblek. Like Delaney, Cannek said “[Mid-GLAM] sounded fun. I’d get to learn and do a lot of experiments.”

Even though Leal said she has a lot of other commitments this summer, she’s happy to do the Mid-GLAM camp because “This is really a passion– something I truly believe in. For me personally, I benefited so much from my teachers early on in middle school– even elementary school, and that sort of helped develop my passion for science. I want to give back. I want to do this now for [the students] and we have the infrastructures [to do it]. We have everything we need. We have the students, we have these amazing labs, we have a very supportive department head and faculty, and we have the National Science Foundation that supports this effort, too.”

Assistant Professor Renske van der Veen (right) watches as campers make their colorful slime.

In addition to the support of the National Science Foundation, the MatSE department at Illinois, and its faculty members, current MatSE students also supported the cause by getting involved in Mid-GLAM because they see the importance of outreach to younger girls.

For example, MatSE junior Carbone admitted that she had no idea what materials science or engineering was when she was young because she didn’t have the opportunity to attend a camp like Mid-GLAM.

She elaborates: “I had no idea what materials science was when I was a kid. I had no idea what engineering was when I was a kid and so by showing them, by opening up the tiny little part of their mind that could be possibly interested in these things later gives them the opportunity to have that as an option. I didn't even know that was an option. I would've gone to one of these camps if I could've.”

A Mid-GLAM camper shows off her now colorful piece of titanium.

In fact, Carbone says she grew up on a different path. She was set to go to Juilliard because she played piano for 15 years; however, this all changed after her sophomore year when she fell in love with STEM, which came as a surprise to her family since she was always known as the artistic one while her brother was the scientist.

Carbone leaves us with an important message:

“I just feel like these girls, whether they were into a completely different thing before, or they were pigeonholed, or they decided that because they were females they shouldn't be in engineering. They should be able to change this just like I did during my sophomore year when I decided to go into STEM.”

Story by Brittany Rhed and photographs by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.

More: 6-8 Outreach, GAMES, GLAM, MatSE, Summer Camp, Women in STEM, 2018

For additional I-STEM articles on Materials Science and Engineering camps and outreach activities, see:

A group of campers celebrate as they win the gumdrop challenge.