Submitted by Diane Hardej, PhD Chair, MASOT Education and Outreach Committee
Last year the Education and Outreach Committee of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter of the Society of Toxicology (MASOT) launched an innovative educational program called Escape from Toxic Island. The program utilized informational posters followed by a board game that quizzed summer campers in the After School All Stars (ASAS) program on basic topics in toxicology. The program was a huge success with approximately 140 campers that participated. St. John’s University serves as one of the host campuses for the ASAS. Pictured at the left are most of the cast and crew of Toxic Island.
This year St. John’s University and the ASAS came through once again in providing a perfect venue to teach campers about toxicology as Escape from Toxic Island went “life size”! The program was conducted on the great lawn of St. John’s University and in the undergraduate teaching labs after record–breaking heat necessitated moving the show to cooler areas on July 19, 2013, for an audience of approximately 100 campers. The show started with a brief demonstration by Diane Hardej and Tony Schatz as the island tribunal discussed some basic concepts of toxicology such as the dose response and routes of exposure. Dr. Hardej cautioned the campers that a creature wanders the island in search of toxic substances. This statement provided a perfect introduction as Dr. Schatz appeared in a Hulk costume (pictured at the right) much to the delight of the ASAS campers.The Hulk performed a “Tox SMASH” on a number of toxic compounds detected by the kids.
Once the introduction to toxicology, and to Dr. Schatz the defender against toxic substances, was complete, the kids were broken up into groups of approximately eight and sent off to one of six stations to explore toxicology concepts. Some of the stations were devised using resources present on the SOT website under “K–12 Outreach for Scientists.” These are resources open to SOT members. Many thanks to those who developed the fantastic resources used for the show and special thanks to Betty Eidemiller, SOT Staff Liaison, who is so instrumental in making sure these are reviewed and available to all members.
The stations included Lemons and Onions, a demonstration that linked exposure to mildly irritating substances to risk, Science Sleuth (thanks to Chris Curran and Totally Toxic!), where the kids learned about reading labels to determine hazards and classifying chemical agents, No Water Off a Duck's Back, that allowed the kids to explore what happens to birds, humans, and aquatic creatures when oil ends up in bodies of water, and Baggie Science, a station where the students investigated chemical changes.
To these wonderful resources already available on SOT’s website, MASOT added a Poison Control Squad that presented information from the New York City (NYC) Poison Control Center. Some of the concepts explored in this station were the similarities between some medications and candy (Is it Medicine or is it Candy?) and the dangers of unlabeled liquids that can mimic normal household products, for example, pine household cleaner and apple juice. To further demonstrate chemical change at the Baggie Science station, a cool experiment that combines a popular candy-coated mint with diet cola was performed to show that some chemical reactions can result in some (mildly) “explosive” results. Each of the stations was greatly enjoyed by the campers as they moved to at least three of the demonstations. Pictured to the left are campers engaged with Diane Hardej in No Water Off a Duck's Back and below the Poison Control Squad discusses the hazards of unlabeled liquids.
Special thanks go out to all of the people who made this program possible. MASOT’s Outreach and Education Committee reviewed and approved all materials for this event. The program was conducted by 26 dedicated volunteers comprised of members of MASOT’s Outreach and Education Committee as well as St. John’s University graduate and undergraduate toxicology students, faculty, and a few friends. St. John’s University, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences), graciously provided volunteers with breakfast and lunch. The Committee recognizes and thanks the MASOT Executive Committee for providing funding for sports bottles that were given to each of the campers during the show. Many thanks to Louis Trombetta (Professor and Department Chair) for his continued support! The All Stars program has provided us for four years with a great venue and audience. We couldn’t do it without their help. Thanks to their Director Alan Fields and program coordinator Laura Burlacu for all their help in coordinating this event and the ASAS staff who helped organize the kids during the show.
Thanks to Suzette Weiss, Mary Anne Sammarco, and Marie DiMaggio of St. John’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences for keeping us fed and hydrated during the show and to Maria Mercurio Zappala of the NYC Poison Control Center for her generous supply of informational booklets, notebooks, magnets, and other related items used by our Poison Control Squad.
Finally, thanks to all our dedicated and hardworking volunteers: Kelly Almond, Aditya Bissoonauth, Danny Chong, Samantha Jellinick-Cohen, Lauren Dire, Brittany Elkin, Amiann Forino, Pilar Grullon, Lisa Hoffman*, Michael Huaman, Daniel Incalcaterra, Renata Kutsyk, Rohan Nagavally (video and photographs), Cynthia Nguyen, Devin O’Brien, Ansel Oommen, Roshani Shah, Shalini Roy, Puneet Vij, Benjamin Kistinger (master shipbuilder, and pirate), Laura Patrone*, Jessica Placido*, Gloria Post*, Tony Schatz* (Toxic avenger), and Ummea Urmi. Our volunteers worked through record-breaking heat for the sake of the program and their efforts are greatly appreciated!
*Denotes MASOT Education and Outreach Committee member