A new outreach project at the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum in Champaign will open March 11.
“FIND Orphy,” a collaborative project between the UI and the museum, will provide a range of informal science education opportunities for children, parents, schools and other community members.
“We believe this project has the ability to reach a population that is often overlooked in STEM fields,” said Barbara Hug, a clinical professor of curriculum and instruction. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “This connects directly to a core mission of the university — to increase the diversity of its student population and in STEM fields through working with a varied population of all ages.”
Key to the project will be two mobile science carts that highlight the research and projects of five UI neuroscientists whose work has been featured in Project Neuron curricula, a National Institutes of Health Science Education Partnership project that helped facilitate the “FIND Orphy” project. Their work will be represented in text and interactive hands-on activities. While the carts primarily will be displayed at the museum, they are portable and can be used at science fairs or local school events.
The program follows a small pilot project called FIND (Faces in Neuroscience Discovery) in which neuroscientists were highlighted at the Orpheum through an informal seminar series and hands-on activities.
Orphy, the museum’s mascot, will serve as a way to help young visitors relate to the project. Orphy will comment on the scientists’ narratives and the hands-on activities to add color and clarity to the exhibit.
Orphy serves as a kind of alter-ego of the scientists by asking questions to clarify scientific information that might not necessarily be easily conveyed or understood.Orphy’s persona is similar to the “Flat Stanley” cultural phenomenon, which has been used as a successful literacy tool for young children. Grade school students send the flat character across the country and then write about his adventures in an autobiographical style.
The opening event on March 11 is scheduled to coincide with national Brain Awareness Week. The museum also will host “FIND Orphy” exhibits at the UI Neuroscience Program’s annual Brain Awareness Day on April 14 and throughout the summer. A “Find Orphy” summer camp is scheduled for July 9 to 13.
The project was funded through the UI Office of Public Engagement.