College students staff NCAS booth for Astronomy Days

College students in the NCAS booth
College students in the NCAS booth

College students and more college students. This year’s North Carolina Academy of Science (NCAS) booth for Astronomy Days was a smashing success, and in no small measure because of great help from students from UNC Pembroke and Meredith College. Students staffed the booth on both days (February 3-4) of the annual event at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.  And these students were busy.

Hundreds of people filed into the spacious foyer of the Curiosity Classrooms to catch a glimpse of living water bears (tardigrades) and vinegar eels under the microscope. In step with the theme, “The Quest for Extraterrestrial Life,“ these minuscule extremophiles were among the top attractions of the NCAS booth. In the scientific quest to find life on worlds beyond our own, water bears and other creatures adapted to Earth’s most extreme environments may offer important clues. Students shared fun facts with visitors, while assisting them with the use of microscopes.

Other attractions in the booth included pinwheel galaxy pinwheels, draw your favorite alien sheets, matching games involving organisms that live in extreme habitats, and miniature planter necklaces. Students crafted dozens of pinwheels and planter necklaces for children and adults, while teaching hundreds of people how to make their own pinwheels and necklaces to take home. It was a great opportunity for students to visit the museum and see the awesome exhibits while lending a helping hand.

Free and open to the public, Astronomy Days is one of the museum’s most popular events. For more than a decade, the NC Academy of Science has hosted a booth as a service to the community and a fun way to engage the public in science. This year’s event attracted nearly 14,000 people! Beautiful, sunny weather greeted the crowds. In her “thank you note to event exhibitors, the museum’s Kari Wouk (Head of Public Science) wrote, “I could have watched the space-travelling tardigrades at the NC Academy of Science booth all day!” 

Many thanks go to NCAS student volunteers (many of whom worked two or more shifts) Blythe Schick, Honeysa Patel, Allyson Requena, Machal Memon, Grace Upton, Athena Gomes, Fizza Fakhar, Andy Cordell, and Haya Gul (all of Meredith College); and to Koki Asada, AJ Abudaya, Lacy Bracken, Wilson Hawes, Julia Autry, Kimberly Fernandez, Aaron Hartman, Shannon Lowry, Noemi Yisra’ez, Demitrius Willig, Grant Gabzdyl, Tyler Locklear, Sophia Hammett, Hannah Leviner, Tiffani Roberts, Kyra Locklear, Alexis Strickland, Thalia Crespo, Sierra Wright, Kacia Grant, and Melissa Depew (all of UNC Pembroke). Thanks also go to Dr. Maria Santisteban for recruiting students from the UNCP COMPASS Program.

Staffers in the NCAS booth included faculty from Elon University (Dr. David Parker), UNC Greensboro (Dr. Alexey Sukhinin), Meredith College (Dr. Maria Pickering, NCAS booth co-organizer) and UNC Pembroke (Dr. Lisa Kelly, NCAS booth co-organizer), plus numerous museum-appointed volunteers. The grand total included more than 40 volunteers! 

Since 1902, the NC Academy of Science has promoted scientific research and fostered education in the sciences, primarily by way of its annual conference, journal, and research grants. Members come from across the state, and college students (CANCAS members) are the biggest participants in the annual conferences. The 2024 annual conference will be hosted by Winston-Salem State University on April 5-6.