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Youngsters experience marine science

UConn graduate students in marine sciences have developed a program to bring their love of science and the natural environment to children.

The Taste, Touch and Smell of Science, a free three-day program for children 9-12 years of age held at the Avery Point campus in Groton in mid-August, lured 20 children from many areas, including Groton, Madison, Salem, Pawcatuck and Hope Valley, R.I. The program illustrated the change in habitats and life forms from land to sea at three locations.

"Graduate students have very little exposure to the community and we felt that it's our responsibility to educate the public about the marine life in Connecticut," said Kam W. Tang, a Ph.D. student in biological oceanography, who created the program and organized it for the public, with the help of five other graduate students.

The program emphasized the basic concept of ecology, the different natural habitats in Connecticut for plants and animals, and how to conserve the habitats. UConn vans transported the children to three locations on each day of the program. On the first day, they went to Haley Farm to study terrestrial and fresh water habitats. The next day the children went to Bluff Point to study the rocky shore, sandy shore and salt marsh. On the last day, they visited Long Island Sound at the Avery Point campus to view marine ecosystems, including in a touch tank display for a closer view.

The participants learned to make a net with a stocking and a plastic cup to collect plankton, hiked, and also made crafts and played games. They received study guides that contained information and illustrations about the plants and animals at various locations, a field observation notebook to write in and draw pictures, and T-shirts created by Tang for the event.

The Department of Marine Sciences and the Avery Point Campus sponsored the event. Faculty, staff and local companies also pitched in to make the event a success, including Copy Cat of New London, who sponsored the flyers, and Mildly Wild Products of Mystic, who discounted the T-shirts.

The children's parents urged Tang and the other graduate students to offer the program again next year. Tang said he hopes to have a five-day program next year, if he can encourage more volunteers to participate.

"We are very happy to serve the community and share what we learn at the University with the public," he said. "Developed as a means to give back to the community and to instill our love of science and our respect for the natural environment in the local youth, this program gave us a lot of teaching experience and a chance to interact with the parents and the kids."

Usha R. Palaniswamy