The record for the youngest person to extract their own DNA was likely set this past April in Washington, D.C., inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center at the USA Science and Engineering Festival. That’s where a young visitor — 3 years old, in fact — from Brentwood, MD stopped by the Bio-Rad Science Ambassador program booth. There, the tot — with help from her mom, her dad, and the volunteer scientists on hand — learned and applied some basic biotech skills to obtain a glob of her genetic material.

A very young scientist (right) performs the Genes in a Bottle experiment to extract her own DNA at the Bio-Rad Science Ambassador booth (left) at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C.

This very young lady from Brentwood was only one of about 1,000 visitors to Bio-Rad’s What Makes You YOU! booth during the festival who got to experience their DNA in a new and very tangible way. Over the three-day event, three Bio-Rad scientists plus a volunteer scientist from Silver Springs, MD, worked nonstop assisting these learners, aged toddler to high school, conduct Bio-Rad’s Genes in a Bottle™ DNA extraction lab. In this short but powerful educational lab, participants harvest their own cheek cells, extract and precipitate the DNA from these cells, and finally transfer the resulting DNA into a keepsake necklace.

4 scientist-volunteers, 3 from Bio-Rad and 1 from nearby Maryland, manned the booth, assisting about 1,000 kids of all ages through the DNA extraction lab over the two-day USA Science and Engineering Festival.

“Working as a Science Ambassador, I was buzzed all day with the enthusiasm of the kids,” said Bio-Rad scientist Bryony Ruegg. “My favorite was a boy named Liam who asked me about 100 science questions, as if I were a walking science encyclopedia! There’s nothing more rewarding than watching a student get turned on to science in such a dramatic way. My smile was ear to ear.”

Young biotechnologists prepare samples, watch DNA precipitating, and show off necklaces containing their own extracted DNA.

The USA Science and Engineering Festival was one of the banner events this year for Science Ambassador, Bio-Rad’s corporate social responsibility program that brings scientists into schools and other educational events, and which is now headed into its third year. Along with large expos that see participants numbering 1,000 or more, the Science Ambassador program has also seen steady growth this year by reaching students in classrooms across America and Canada.

One recent example of the program’s growing presence in schools occurred not across the country in the nation’s capital, but right in Bio-Rad’s backyard at Hercules High School in Hercules, CA. There, an enterprising parent, Madeline Cope, coordinated with Bio-Rad to bring seven different scientists to present to 11 different ninth grade classes. Over the course of five days, 326 students, many decked out in hippie regalia for Spirit Week, precipitated their DNA and talked to the Science Ambassador about DNA trivia, working at Bio-Rad, and how to become a scientist.

Emmanual Quiroz discusses why the follicle is the best location on a strand of human hair from which to extract DNA as part of his Science Ambassador presentation at Hercules High School in Hercules, CA.

Students in multiple classrooms at Hercules High School extracted their DNA and preserved it in keepsake necklaces to show off to classmates.

Seeing is believing: the moment in the experiment when genetic material begins to fall out of solution is always an exciting one.

“As a parent, I have much to say on interactive teaching practices in developing foundational literacy, especially in science education,” reflected Cope. “I am greatly appreciative of Bio-Rad’s outreach to bring science into the classroom — exactly what our students need. Bio-Rad’s Science Ambassador is a great program!”

As we head into the 2014–15 school year, Bio-Rad looks forward to continuing this science education program in even more schools, as well as through our presence at upcoming events such as the Bay Area Science Festival Discovery Days. We’re looking forward to exciting times ahead as we continue to engage with — and maybe even inspire — the next generation of science leaders!

Scientists and teachers who share a passion for science education are the driving force behind the Science Ambassador program’s success. Visit the Bio-Rad Science Ambassador Program site to learn more about becoming a Science Ambassador or bringing Science Ambassador to schools in your area today!

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