By Wendy Sarubbi | April 10, 2015 2:33 pm

Scientific research became real to 43 curious middle school students April 7 as they compared tumors with healthy tissues, discovered the array of colors in black permanent ink and were inspired that scientists aren’t all people with “long beards and red eyes.” Those discoveries came as the sixth- and eighth-graders from Maitland Middle School spent the day at the Burnett Biomedical Sciences building in Lake Nona to learn all that research and medical education have to offer.

Maitland Middle teacher and Science Department chair Dr. Anne Albright reached out to the Burnett School to arrange the campus tour for students interested in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.  “As a science teacher, I loved watching our students come alive with excitement in the lab,” she said. Students began the day by hearing from Burnett School research faculty. Dr. Mollie Jewett talked about her work finding better treatments for Lyme disease, and showed students’ what the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that causes the disease looks like under a microscope. She used a real-world example of the health effects of the tick-borne condition, using singer Avril Lavigne’s recent interview with People Magazine about her battle with Lyme disease.

The College of Medicine’s Associate Dean for Research, Dr. Sampath Parthasarathy, talked about how he and his colleagues are passionate about learning and discovery but also enjoy having a good time – as he showed Burnett School faculty and students participating in their annual kickball tournament, the most recent in the mud. Dr. Parthasarathy emphasized that science is for everyone, noting that not all scientists have the stereotypical “long beard and red eyes.”

Burnett School Ph.D. candidate Sarah Gitto helped the students understand the microbiology of disease by having them compare under a microscope regular organ tissues with tissues containing cancer. “Just seeing how excited they were, and the amount of questions they were asking, you could see that this was making an impact on them,” she said.

As they toured the college’s M.D. program, students were amazed to see a library where 98 percent of the books are digital, not hard copies. They also interacted with “Harvey,” a computerized mannequin in the Clinical Skills and Simulation Center that can sweat, cry, talk and react to hundreds of medications. “It was so cool, he had all the parts just like a person,” said sixth-grader Jaclyn Silver. “I liked seeing how all the technology can help the medical students learn.”

Judy Ramos, assistant to the associate dean for research, helped coordinate the event. Students were selected for the tour based on their interest in science or health as a career. Many of the the eighth-graders said they hoped to get  into the challenging “biomedical track” at Winter Park High School next year. “Middle school is really where the kids have to start if they are interested in science,” Ramos said as she encouraged the youngsters to volunteer and shadow scientists and healthcare professionals.  “We want them to get into the labs and put in time. We wanted to show them what they can do and exactly how they can do it.”

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