"Inspiring young scientists, engineers and techies, one experiment at a time."

Extracting DNA from fruit, creating bouncy balls from household products, exploring light – these are just a few of the hands-on experiences that 1,000 girls from southeast Michigan have now had a chance to experience thanks to a student group at the University of Michigan called FEMMES (Females Excelling More in Math, Engineering, and Science). The group reached this milestone at their latest Saturday Science Capstone event held in the UM Chemistry Building on March 28. Some 150 girls in 4th-6th grades from area schools spent a day in hands-on activities related to chemistry, biology, physics, math, and more.

Since the UM chapter was founded four years ago, the FEMMES program has given girls a chance to enjoy science in a fun, supportive environment and explore their potential in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. “We hope to build our participants' curiosity about a variety of areas and encourage them to increase their participation in those fields,” say the organizers.

The day began with a keynote speaker, Sophie Lavieri, a lecturer in Chemistry from Simon Fraser University in British Colombia, Canada. She founded Science in Action to encourage children, particularly girls, to develop a love for science at an early age. The program and has reached over 80,000 kids in Canada through her outreach efforts, including many aboriginal and rural populations.

The morning and afternoon were filled with a variety of hands-on activities led by volunteers from among UM science faculty members, graduate students, and STEM undergraduates.

The Saturday Capstone concluded with a gathering where the groups shared their experiences.

Among the groups participating at this spring’s event were the UM student chemistry fraternity Alpha Chi Sigma, the , UM Chemistry professor Anne McNeil’s lab and Emily Nelson, a chemistry graduate student in Bart Bartlett’s group, University of Michigan Chemistry and Biology Interface Training Program, and the National Science Foundation-Center for C-H Functionalization. See a complete list of this year’s activities and descriptions below.

The existing gender disparities in the STEM fields underscore the need for outreach programs to help engage young women in such areas, explain the student organizers.

FEMMES also offers after school programs in area elementary schools. To date, volunteers have put in more than 2,000 hours for young girls from 60 different schools. The group welcomes more volunteers. If you are interested, contact: femmesvolunteerumich@gmail.com.

The UM FEMMES website offers more information. You can find it at:

As a UM student organization, an executive board comprised of graduate students and undergraduate women from across campus manages the program. Faculty advisors include Sara Aton, Assistant Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB); Catherine Collins, Associate Professor, MCDB, and Kathleen Nolta, Senior Lecturer, Chemistry.

Spring 2015 Capstone Hands-On Activities

Alpha Chi Sigma: Bouncing Ball Polymer

We are Alpha Chi Sigma, a professional chemistry fraternity at the University of Michigan. We are using simple chemistry to make bouncy balls out of common household materials. Balls have been around for thousands of years. The earliest balls were made of stone and wood, but the discovery of natural rubber meant people could now bounce balls. Bouncy balls can now be made of plastics and other polymers. Using borax, cornstarch, dye and glue, personalized bouncy balls can be made.

National Science Foundation-Center for C-H Functionalization (Professor John Montgomery and David Sherman): Molecule Mania

Using molecule kits, the girls will participate in molecule building exercises discovering the structures of molecules like water and methane. They will then have the opportunity to use their new found skills to build the molecules for spearmint and caraway. Surprising the structures are almost exactly the same, but our nose tells us otherwise. In doing so, the girls will learn what it means for molecules to chiral and how our body responds to minor changes in molecular structure.

Dr. Jane Huggins: Speak with Your Eyes and Type with Your Head: The Magic of (Assistive) Technology

People with physical impairments face many challenges in accessing technology and communicating.  The field of rehabilitation engineering helps to overcome those challenges with technology.  The University of Michigan Direct Brain Interface Laboratory and the Rehabilitation Engineering Program will demonstrate a variety of devices to help people with disabilities stay connected to the world and remain independent.  Participants will be able to try most of the devices.  Participants will experience how head or eye movements can be used to replace the function of hands and tongue.  Participants will also get to see a brain-computer interface that uses brain signals as a computer input device.  

Emily Nelson, graduate student in Chemistry professor Bart Bartlett’s group
Some “light” Chemistry

The girls will explore the light and start to answer the question “what is light?” They will experiment with the different ways light can be created and what causes each different source of light.  Using household items such as candy, tape, pickles and others they will begin to delve into the crazy and wonderful world of light.

Chemical Engineering Graduate Society (ChEGS): Boats Boats Boats!

Students will learn about chemical engineering. Our activity will teach students about the properties of water and how materials interact with it. This knowledge can aid in the design of water vehicles, and students will apply their learning to construct and test boats to see what surface coating makes their boat go the fastest.

UM Chemistry and Biology Interface Training Program: Extracting DNA from Fruits and Human Subjects

DNA is a molecule that contains the genetic makeup for an organism. In this fun activity, students will be extracting DNA from their cheek cells as well as from fruits and vegetables. Students will get an opportunity to discuss properties of DNA and the female scientists who have made significant contributions to our understanding of DNA.  All participants will be leaving with a sample of extracted DNA to show off to friends and family!

Dr. Carol Menassa, Assistant Professor of Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering: Energy Vampires

This activity focuses on teaching students what vampire energy means. First, we will use a Kill A Watt™ monitor to measure and monitor the electric power consumption of some electrical machines and devices. Then, students will be divided into three groups and assigned to calculate vampire energy consumption of several electrical machines and devices in a housing unit simulation of by using this website http://energyquest.ca.gov/vampires/dswmedia/. Then, we will discuss on suggestions of what students can do to eliminate these energy vampires

Mariel Lavieri, Assistant Professor of Industrial and Operations Engineering, College of Engineering: Emergency Department Simulation Game

Students will simulate a hospital emergency room by playing the roles of nurse, physician, and patient.  Random number generation (using dices) will be used to generate random hospital events, e.g. patient arrivals, ESI, discharge, etc.  The original simulated hospital will be purposely chaotic with a lot of bed crowding and waiting time.  Following the original simulation, students will be guided to improve patient and process flow. Their ideas will be implemented and the simulation will be run again.  This activity introduces students to Lean Principles and industrial engineering applications to hospital management.

GameStart School: Animation & Game Design</4>

In this activity, you’ll experiment with designing characters and building your own video game in Unity, a free game development platform used by professional developers all around the world.

GameStart School: Minecraft Programming

What took hours now takes nanoseconds as you explore real-world programming skills in Minecraft using the Python programming language. Nothing in Minecraft is more powerful than a bit of critical thinking and some computer code… and in this activity, you’ll have a chance to give a try!

Dr. Karen Guerin, School of Kinesiology: It’s a Human Bone Puzzle

Students will trace around a person lying on their back on a large sheet of paper.  They will then use deductive reasoning to place the bones of the body in the correct location, learning basic bone and joint names as part of the process.

Maris Polanco, Pharmacology graduate student: Survival of The Fittest: The Online Game Challenge

Students will learn elementary concepts of evolution such as mutation, camouflage, selective pressure, and evolutionary advantage. In the case of dichromatic vs. trichromatic vision in primates, students will learn that trichromatic vision gives old-world monkeys an enhanced ability to distinguished ripe from unripe fruit, and that dichromatic vision gives new world monkeys enhanced ability to distinguish shapes and see in low light. In the case of light vs. dark mice, students will learn that fur color of a similar color to the ground acts as camouflage and decreases the probability of death by predation, and therefore is selected for. They will play several computer games that demonstrate these concepts.

Dr. Monica Valluri, Astronomy: Unlocking the secrets of light

Because astronomer’s can’t touch the distant objects we study we rely on light. Light often contains hidden information that the human eye cannot see without help. In this activity we will be constructing spectroscopes, which reveal the hidden rainbows all around us.

Biophysics Graduate Student Council: Play with your Food: The science of what we eat

For our activity, students will be learning about the science behind common foods. We will start with extracting DNA from a banana using household items. We’ll be able to discuss what exactly it is that makes up DNA and be able to see it when we finish. Our second task involves looking at the nutrients in our cereals, like iron. In this experiment, we’ll look at just how much iron there is, as well as actually be able to see it and move it around with a magnet.

Ann Marie Macara, graduate student in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, Bin Ye lab in the Life Sciences Institute:Insect Insanity!

With insect specimens provided from University of Michigan Museum of Natural History Museum, we will be investigating biodiversity and biological ecology.

Dr. Anne McNeil Group, Chemistry: Alive with heat: Shrinking polymers

A brief presentation will expose students to the many different types of polymers that they encounter in their daily life.  They will learn how the properties of polymer materials can be optimized by simple changes in the chemical structure or processing condensation.  Students will utilize these principles to craft key-chains, ornaments, or name tags from heat-sensitive polymers.  We will watch as their creations move and wriggle when these polymers are placed in the oven.  All items can be kept by the students as mementos or presents to family, but they will have a very different appearance from what they started out as.

Society of Women Engineers: Robot Challenge

The robot challenge will introduce students to the world of Computer Science Engineering by allowing them to work with NXT Lego Mindstorm Robots. The students will be taught how to use the basic software and also some basic coding logic skills. They will eventually be given challenges to complete such as running a through a test course or building programs that will make your robot dance. This activity with emphasize the concepts of building, testing, and debugging, which is relevant to all engineering programming and design.