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Northwestern University

LABS for Young Minds

For more than two decades, Northwestern’s L.A.B.S. program has brought the joys of science discovery to local children

For the last 21 years, about 75 local schoolchildren have been entering the state-of-the-art science labs at Northwestern University, donning white lab coats and exploring biotechnology, molecular biology, genetics and cell biology.

Called L.A.B.S. (Laboratory Adventures in the Biological Sciences), the program’s goal is simple: to stimulate children’s awareness and wonder in science.

The brainchild of Richard Morimoto, the Bill and Gayle Cook Professor of Molecular Biosciences at Northwestern, and his wife, Joyce, L.A.B.S. provides science discovery education for children ages 6 to 13 on four consecutive Saturdays each spring.

“We want to make science fun and help students understand how science is all around them,” Morimoto says.

Working in small groups alongside advanced Northwestern undergraduate student-teachers and junior teaching assistants from local Evanston Township High School, students enjoy a unique curriculum each year that ranges from investigating a mock murder scene to isolating DNA from fruit.

The program also includes brown-bag experiments that students take home to perform with parents and siblings.

“Science and discovery get propagated when it’s part of the dinner conversation, and we want to continue to expand and inspire that curiosity,” Morimoto says.

More than 1,500 students have passed through the program, which currently carries a fee of $100 per student. The program has been supported by Northwestern University, the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, funding from the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Institute for Biomedical Research and the dedicated efforts of Morimoto Laboratory manager Sue Fox, who has directed L.A.B.S. since its 1994 inception,

“We’re thrilled that we’ve been able to provide opportunities that would otherwise not be available to these young students,” Morimoto says.

This spring, however, L.A.B.S. will run its final session. After more than two decades, Morimoto will pursue new adventures.

“We’re taking an opportunity to pause and think about how our efforts can stimulate new projects and essentially ask, ‘What else is there that we can do?’” says Morimoto, a renowned scientist whose research work investigates dementia, ALS, Alzheimer’s and other crippling afflictions.

Though L.A.B.S. has reached its conclusion, Morimoto considers the program one of his most treasured professional accomplishments.

“At my core, I’m an educator, and the joy for me has been being able to share,” Morimoto says. “I hope each and every student that came through the program gained a sense of joy from discovery that enhanced and stimulated their curiosity.”

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