The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix campus transformed into a gigantic science lab Jan. 22 as more than 8,000 children and parents tried their hand at robotic surgery, dissected pig hearts, tested the aerodynamics of baseballs, made slime and gurgling foam, extracted DNA from a strawberry, and flew a simulated drone.
The exhibits were among the more than 100 hands-on activities offered at Connect2STEM, an annual outreach meant to inspire kids about science, technology, engineering, math and medicine. It was the sixth year for the free event, which is organized by the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix in partnership with Cox Communications.
Kids and adults crowded into BrainWorks Lab, where they watched actual brain surgery through virtual reality goggles. Steady hands were tested on an operating microscope where attendees used a strand smaller than a human hair to thread a needle. This was the debut of BrainWorks Lab, powered by Banner Health and the College of Medicine – Phoenix.
BrainWorks was spearheaded by Peter Nakaji, M.D., chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at Banner – University Medical Center and physician executive of neurosurgery at Banner Health. He attended last year's Connect2STEM with his own children.
"It's more fun for me this year because I am able to bring some of the most exciting and cutting-edge things we are doing at Banner, but make it totally accessible to these children," Nakaji said. "They don't feel like this is over their head. They feel like they want to be in someone's head and doing this. That's what we want."
The UA College of Medicine – Phoenix showcase exhibit was a vast simulation room where children learned from medical students how to intubate a realistic, high-fidelity mannequin, take vitals, perform ultrasounds, perfect their CPR technique and practice surgery skills with the da Vinci surgical robot. Kids gathered around cow eye and pig hearts where medical students explained the organs' anatomy and function. At the Wildcat Play Hospital, little ones gave their stuffed animals checkups with help from UA College of Nursing students and faculty.
Sponsors were Banner Health, USAA, Radiall, Arizona Public Service Co., City of Phoenix Public Works Department, Southwest Airlines, Sundt | DPR, Boyer Company, Standard Parking and Fry's Food Stores. Connect2STEM is the kickoff for the Arizona SciTech Festival, a two-month campaign in February and March that promotes science events across the state.