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Junior Scientist Program

In Your Community: FBI Junior Scientist Program

Neabsco Elementary students watch an FBI Chemist
Neabsco Elementary School students watch an FBI Laboratory chemist perform an immunoassay screening test on urine samples to look for the presence of drug metabolites.

What is DNA? How do the sun and moon affect ocean tides? Why is the sky blue?

Thanks to the FBI Laboratory’s Junior Scientist Program, fifth graders at Neabsco Elementary School in Woodbridge, Virginia are learning the answers to these questions and more. (Due to time and personnel limitations, the Laboratory partners exclusively with Neabsco.)

Launched in 2003, the Junior Scientist Program is bringing science to life for students at the Prince William County public school, located just 20 minutes away from the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia. “Our goal is to help them see the value of science,” says the Laboratory’s Michael Frady, who spearheads the program. “When my own kids were little, they would ask me, ‘Why do I have to learn this stuff? I’m never going to use it again.’ We want to show the kids that there are people out there who use science in their jobs everyday.”

During the first few weeks of the school year, permission slips are sent home inviting parents to enroll their kids in the program. Laboratory employees are also on-hand at the school's annual back-to-school night to promote the program and answer questions.

The Laboratory’s Donna Bestwick, the program coordinator, arranges biweekly visits to Neabsco based upon the fifth grade science curriculum. When the kids are studying ocean tides and currents, the Laboratory’s Evidence Response Team Unit brings in its dive suits, face masks, and oxygen tanks and teaches the students about underwater evidence collection. When they're studying life sciences, scientists from the Laboratory’s DNA Analysis units teach the students about the importance of collecting and analyzing blood and other biological material found at crime scenes. When the kids are learning about “light” and the electromagnetic spectrum, the Laboratory’s photographers show students how the film in a camera detects light and turns it into the images we see in photographs.

All the while, Laboratory employees use quizzes and dramatic experiments to show that science is fun. For example, to demonstrate the dramatic effect of temperature on materials containing water, a Laboratory chemist dips a flower into a container of liquid nitrogen, then drops it to the ground. To the students' amazement, the frozen flower shatters like glass.

The Laboratory also assists Neabsco staff with the school’s annual science fair. As students are preparing their projects, scientists from the Laboratory’s Research unit explain how their daily work requires them to establish hypotheses and then create experiments to test them. Laboratory chemists, biologists, latent fingerprint experts, physical scientists, and others then serve as science fair judges.

But there's more to the program than science. Laboratory employees also teach the students about being responsible citizens. In order to stay in the program, students must have good grades and good attendance records, and must steer clear of drugs and gangs.

At the conclusion of the 2004-2005 school year, 104 students graduated from the Junior Scientist program. During a ceremony at Quantico, Laboratory Deputy Assistant Director Tod Hildebrand, Operational Response Section Chief James Sample, and others awarded each student with a diploma. The new Junior Scientists then received a tour of the Laboratory, where they met Bureau scientists and watched them perform experiments.

The program is succeeding not only in raising the students’ awareness of science, but also in making them more interested in school, say Neabsco teachers and staff. Fourth graders are already asking their teachers when they’ll get a chance to get involved with the program.