Children at Cairo's Cancer Hospital
Students and faculty from American University in Cairo (AUC) piled aboard the “Science Bus” this past week on a journey to bring knowledge and smiles to the Children’s Cancer Hospital of Cairo, as part of the second annual Cairo Science and Engineering Festival.
Conceived by AUC Professor Alaa Ibrahim, the Cairo Science and Engineering Festival, held three weeks of science-based activities in Cairo, organized by the School of Sciences and Engineering Outreach program in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Cambridge Science Festival and the University of California, San Diego Science Festival. The Science Bus was a continuation of the Festival’s mission to expand science education and make it more accessible and fun for the AUC and greater Cairo communities. Ibrahim, wielding suitcases filled with anatomical models, robotic cranes, magnetic puzzles, and scale models of the solar system, explained the Science Bus as a mobile science and technology museum that can be brought to the community to connect AUC’s faculty and scientists to youth. “We are setting up experiments to interact with the children and teach concepts through hands-on experiences. We want to stimulate a discussion to raise interest among parents in informal learning.”
Once at the hospital, the bus was met by an eager group of young patients. After a brief explanation of the different activities, the children, who ranged in age from 5 to 11 years, began playing and exploring. Among the children, some activities were clear favorites. “I like the robot arm,” said Omar, age 10, as he used a remote controlled robot crane to lift a small model of a stegosaurus high into the air. Yasmin, age 7, spent over an hour working to put together an anatomical model of a frog. “I like the way the pieces fit,” she explained.
The afternoon spent at the Children’s Cancer Hospital was also significant for those traveling from AUC. Sandra Riad, a pre-med biology major, said she wanted to come on the Science Bus because it put her studies in a real context. Riad explained that she believes it is important to introduce fun tools and activities to the children for their education and health.
In addition to the Science Bus, the Cairo Science Festival was largely dedicated to events and activities that brought science outside of the university community and fostered exchange on scientific matters. A series of lectures, open houses and videoconferences connected Cairo’s science enthusiasts both face-to-face and digitally with experts from across the world. Students and aspiring scientists also had the opportunity to benefit from exchanges with their peers across the world.
On May 21, high school students from Cairo video conferenced with high school students from the San Diego, California, area, and were able to video-tour a biology lab at the University of California San Diego campus. “This kind of experience sheds a light on the role of undergraduate research,” says Loren Thompson, assistant vice chancellor at UCSD and executive director of the San Diego Science Festival. “This kind of exchange is really eye opening for kids in the United States who often don’t know a lot about what science and math teaching looks like elsewhere in the world. Through exchanges like this one the groups can learn to work to solve practical problems.”
Students discussed a biodiesel generator, which had been created by the students in San Diego. It was the Cairo students that came up with a practical application of the generator, as a method to clean up the Nile River algae that has long posed problems due in part to the prohibitive cost of river maintenance. A student from Cairo proposed that fueling the generator with the algae would both solve the ecological problems caused by the algae and could also offset costs by reducing the need for other sources of fuel for the generator.
AUC’s Science Outreach Committee also hosts events all year. Past events have included star-gazing, viewing the solar eclipse and the planet Jupiter.