Attracting 94 attendees and generating $2,400 in revenue, Irvington High School’s Science Alliance Club and the MSJ Foundation for International Medical Relief for Children (FIMRC) hosted the seventh annual Dine With a Scientist event on the evening of Saturday, March 7. Students throughout FUSD mingled in the Irvington cafeteria with guest scientists working in diverse STEM fields from nuclear astrophysics to computational biology.
Former Irvington Chemistry Teacher Wai-Pan Chan organized the fundraising event with the help of Science Alliance Club to introduce high school students to different fields of science and help them discover STEM-related careers that might interest them. The event involved months of planning and outreach from Science Alliance and FIMRC. FIMRC’s officers’ main role was publicity; they reached out to students through read meets, Facebook, and other social media platforms to advertise and sell tickets.
As wide-eyed students armed with question sheets entered the cafeteria, student volunteers guided them to their assigned tables while a live Irvington student band played in the background. Once the cafeteria was packed with attendees, Dr. Richard Zare, a chemistry professor at Stanford University, kicked off the event with a speech about his team’s recent discovery: the spontaneous production of hydrogen peroxide in water droplets. To demonstrate this discovery, Zare performed a live experiment in which he tested the pH of condensation formed on a glass. Afterward, he finished his presentation with an emphasis that interdisciplinary knowledge is essential to solving problems.
Inspired by Zare’s speech, students continued to ask the scientists questions about their expertise, as well as for any advice they might have for pursuing STEM past high school. Science Alliance Club President Irvington Senior Twisha Kurlagunda said, “This event allows students to interact with scientists in their career choice. High school is an especially important time, where you are deciding where you want your path in life to go. We are allowing them to talk to scientists about which direction they want to go in and just learn about various things from them.”
With one scientist at each of the 13 tables excitedly explaining their research work, students were able to build one-on-one connections, rotating from table to table, asking questions, actively and discussing each scientist’s unique field of work. The scientists also appreciated the personal experience that the event provided; Oregon State University Ph.D. Student Dr. Chad Zanocco said, “I loved it. I had great questions from students. I got to interact with them a lot.”
The proceeds gained from the event go toward a need-based scholarship fund managed by Chan and Irvington faculty. Looking back on her experience, FIMRC Co-President Junior Amy Quach learned some valuable life lessons. “My favorite part was talking to all of the different scientists and how they each had a different story to tell. I learned that book smarts don’t always equal success but it’s more of the persistence and determination that shine through in the end,” she said.