July 12, 2013

“Who Are You?”

It’s the question that gets asked every week on the “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” television series. Now that familiar lyric written by Pete Townsend of The Who is being repeated daily in the Roberts Hall of Science during Culver Summer Schools & Camps.

uses a Bunsen burner to determine what chemicals make up her mysterious white powder.

Amanda Fink uses a Bunsen burner to determine what chemicals make up her mysterious white powder.

A group of Upper Campers are getting a firsthand look at how science is used to solve mysteries. They use chemistry to breakdown various mysterious white powders. They use biology to perform hair analysis. And they use physics while researching blood (fake, of course) spatters.

The three-week summer session familiarizes campers with lab procedures and introduces them to high school level science. With an age range of 14 to 17 years old, instructor Sharon Heineman said it is the first time many of the campers have done their own experiments and analyses. “Most of them haven’t even lit a Bunsen burner,” she said.

Most of them haven’t even lit a Bunsen burner

The premise of the class is to show students how to run experiments and analyze their data to solve the various mysteries. Heineman said the class watches three CSI episodes, then campers perform experiments similar to what was in each episode. They have used microscopes, pH strips, the Bunsen burners to study chemical reactions, density, and blood typing. They also study lab safety, which can sometimes be more challenging than the science aspect.

On the final day of the class, each student will be given a crime scenario and a bag of “evidence” and they have to use what they have learned to figure out who the guilty party is. Heineman said she ties each crime to someplace on the Culver campus. For example, one scenario involved the kidnapping of a horse from the Vaughn Equestrian Center.

Culver Academies science instructor Josh Pretzer originally developed the course for Culver Summer Schools & Camps and Heineman, a former Academies science instructor who returns to Culver each summer, has modified and taught the course for the past seven years.

Heineman’s goal is for the students to be “more comfortable” in the science lab and classroom when they return to school in the fall.

“I hope they like science,” she said. “I know they like fire.”

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