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Girls learn about plants inside and out at Pollen Power camp

BY Claudia Lutz.

Most summer day camps rely on some standard activities to entertain their attendees—indoor and outdoor games, crafts, field trips, and snacks. The middle school girls who attended Pollen Power camp at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB) in mid-July enjoyed all these activities, but with some unique touches: plants and insects, fiber optics and lenses, microscopes and green screen recordings all played a big role in the camp’s agenda.

Girls learn about plants inside and out at Pollen Power camp

The camp, offered this summer for the fifth consecutive year, is funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the IGB. The camp is co-organized by plant biologist IGB members Lisa Ainsworth (USDA ARS) and Andrew Leakey, IGB Core Facilities, and IGB Outreach staff. Female graduate students acted as counselors for the plant science-themed camp, providing examples for attendees of what a future career in science could look like.

In addition to basics of plants and pollination, campers learned about the relationship of plant biology to animal pollinators, evolution, and global climate change through a series of projects and activities. The girls used high-powered microscopes and fabrication equipment to explore pollen grains and other plant structures up close. They wrote and produced their own short videos about Earth’s present and future climate.

Girls learn about plants inside and out at Pollen Power camp

A new experience incorporated into this year’s iteration of the camp was a visit to the Illinois Simulator Laboratory, where campers explored the CUBE—a 3D visualization chamber—and viewed virtual molecules, microscopy images, and even sharks.

“It was a great experience and I hope to do it again next year,” said one camper, reflecting on her experiences at the end of the week. “Thank you to everyone who helped make this camp possible.”

Talks by female scientists and visits to laboratories and research field sites around the Illinois campus helped provide a broad view of the many forms that scientific work can take and a more concrete picture of its day-to-day realities. The ultimate goal of the camp is not just to educate, but to make a career in STEM, particularly plant science or engineering, more appealing and achievable to those who attend.

Girls learn about plants inside and out at Pollen Power camp

“It was fun to learn about bees and DNA,” another camper said, commenting on the both the unusual aspects of the camp and the strengths it shares with many summer vacation endeavors. “3D printing is cool. The whole camp was a fun experience. It was also a nice opportunity to make new friends.”

Registration for next year’s camp will open early spring 2017. For more information about the camp, or to be added to a mailing list for related announcements, please contact IGB’s Outreach Activities Manager Courtney Cox at


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