The Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter of the Society of Toxicology (MASOT) has a long-standing commitment to promoting toxicology to students, knowing that we can influence career choices and increase the awareness of toxicology principles. On Friday, August 5, members of the MASOT Education and Outreach Committee participated in a one-day Toxicology/Pharmacology workshop for approximately 45 rising 9th and 10th grade high school girls in the Greater Opportunity for Advancement and Leadership in Science (GOALS) for Girls Program.
Diane Hardej, PhD, presenting some basic information on toxicology prior to the hands-on experiment using California blackworms.
The workshop was a coordinated effort between Ms. Shay Saleem, Senior Museum Educator at the Intrepid Air, Sea and Space Museum in New York City, and Drs. Marie Nitopi and Elise Megehee, Coordinators of the Women in Science (WIS) Program at St. John’s University. GOALS is a national program that aims to increase the presence of women in STEM fields by providing skills, resources, encouragement, and support that will foster interest in these areas.
I am the co-chair of the MASOT Education and Outreach Committee and an Associate Professor in the College of Pharmacy at St. John’s and worked with advisory board members for the WIS program to gather toxicology materials for the workshop. These were then vetted by Lisa Hoffman, PhD, committee chair, and approved by the remaining committee members. The experiment “Toxicants and California Blackworms” used for the two one-hour sessions was available online and modified from the activity available from the Center for Chemical Education at Miami University and through the University of Arizona Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center Community Outreach and Education Program. The experiment involved exposing blackworms (Lumbriculus variegates) to various concentrations of nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol and then observing changes in blackworm activity over a 10-minute period.
Toxicology assistants for the workshop (from left to right) Anarita Lynch, Amanda Dhaneshwar, Benjamin Kistinger, Jessica Placido, and Shenell Collins.
Each of the two sessions had approximately 22–23 participants working in groups of 4 or 5. Each group was supervised by a committee member or a WIS graduate or undergraduate scholar. The girls were introduced to the concept of the dose-response effects and were given information on the stimulants (caffeine and nicotine) and the depressant (alcohol) before carrying out the experiment.
Doctoral student Benjamin Kistinger guiding students as they carry out the experiment.
Participants engaged in all phases of the experiment, as they distributed the worms and applied various concentrations of the agents. After the 10-minute observation period, the agents were removed and replaced with fresh water to observe if toxicant effects were reversible. The students recorded their results and graphed their data after the session.
Students apply study agents to the blackworms.
The participants were very engaged in the activity, conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism, and appeared very enthusiastic with their observations and results! In the course of the session, they practiced various skills such as listening attentively, using information to perform an experiment, observation of test subjects, data recording, and compilation of data. Overall, the sessions were very successful for the participants and very fulfilling for the instructors and helpers!
Many thanks to the MASOT Education and Outreach Committee members who helped with the event, Jessica Placido, PhD, and Benjamin Kistinger, and to the rest of the committee for reviewing materials for the event, Chair Lisa Hoffman, PhD, Angelique Braen, PhD, Sue Ford, PhD, Jamie Moscovitz, Laura Patrone, PhD, Gloria Post, PhD, John Szilagyi, and Alessandro Venosa. The efforts of our WIS scholars Amanda Dhaneshwar, Anarita Lynch, and Shenell Collins also are acknowledged for their help with the sessions.