Girl Scouts get hands-on with science

Photos byTraci Westcott/The Herald
Kyla Dickens, 13, of Dubois, center, reacts as Vincennes University Assistant Professor Juno Farnsworth and Aliya Carter, 12, of Evansville, invite her to help dissect a fetal pig during the Girl Scouts STEAM U overnight lock-in at Vincennes University Jasper Campus on Friday. 


JASPER — Eleven-year-old Sarah Buechler of Jasper pointed her scalpel at various organs she’d exposed in the fetal pig she was dissecting Friday night at Vincennes University Jasper Campus, excitedly identifying each one.

“That’s the liver,” she said, pointing at a large brown mass. “That’s the brain, and this” — she put the scalpel down to scoop up a sphere the size of a small marble — “is its eye.”

While most kids don’t dissect fetal pigs until advanced biology classes in high school, Buechler and 62 other area Girl Scouts got to have the experience early in the first STEAM U — STEAM is science, technology, engineering, art and math — lock-in through the Girl Scouts of Southwest Indiana. The event attracted Scouts from all over southwest Indiana and northwest Kentucky, and was geared toward fourth-grade through high-school students to give them experience with STEAM activities.

The goal, according to Marti Mauntel, one of the organizers, was to spark an interest in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — fields for the girls.

According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, women are still underrepresented in STEM fields, with women making up only 29 percent of the science and engineering workforce, despite making up half of the college-educated workforce.

See a gallery of photos from the STEAM U event here.

The event offered a full look at STEM fields, with sessions on nursing, chemistry, microbiology, biology and engineering. Participants chose three sessions from the offerings. In addition to dissecting pigs, participants could choose to look at different liquids under a microscope, learn nursing basics, design a marshmallow catapult, design a safety cushion for an egg dropped off a balcony or learn to measure pH using red cabbage juice.

Abby Robinson of Jasper, 12, chose the cabbage activity for one of her sessions. In the session, the girls conducted a series of chemistry experiments to measure and change the pH of different household liquids using red cabbage juice as an indicator.

Madison Kalb, 12, of Dubois, recites the Girl Scout oath before beginning activities at the Girl Scouts STEAM U overnight lock-in at Vincennes University Jasper Campus on Friday. 

The pigment in red cabbage, Professor Nicholas Sirvus explained, changes color when it comes in contact with acidic or basic solutions, making it a good indicator for pH.

In the last experiment of the session, participants turned a basic solution into a more acidic one by blowing into it through a straw. Carbon dioxide turns to an acid when it hits liquid, Sirvus explained. It wasn’t long before Robinson had her blue liquid — which indicated a basic solution, red indicated acidic — turning purple, and bubbles overflowing her beaker. The experience enticed Robinson to pursue chemistry courses in school.

“It’s fun,” she said. “We got to blend a cabbage and use its guts to make colors.”

By the end of the night, organizers chalked up the event as a success, and there were talks about making it an annual event.

“We would like to do it again,” Mauntel said. “There’s even one troop talking about planning it as a Silver Award project.”

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