Campus: CSU, Northridge -- April 26, 2000

CSUN Prof Helps Student Scientists Spread The Word of Their Experiments

Drosophila flies prefer the color green, caffeine greatly enhances the learning abilities of mice and sunscreen doesn't protect yeast from ultraviolet radiation.

Just ask the student scientists from California and elsewhere who researched these issues-or better yet, you can read about their experiments in a bona fide scientific journal, thanks to an award-winning Cal State Northridge professor.

"The Journal of Student Research Abstracts, Vol. 5" contains the results of scientific experiments by 444 students, said Steven B. Oppenheimer, CSUN biology professor, who created and edits the annually published journal. (An abstract is a summary of an experiment.)

"As far as I know this is the only science abstract journal for K-12 students in the world," said Oppenheimer, director of CSUN's Center for Cancer and Developmental Biology and recipient of 21 teaching awards, including the highest in the California State University system. "There's nothing like it, we believe, anywhere in the world."

The goal of the abstract is to get as many students as possible as excited as possible about science, Oppenheimer said.

It seems to be working.

"My students thought it was terrific. They just loved it. They've been passing it around the classroom," said Charles Lawrence, who borrowed microscopes so the 63 students in his two science classes could conduct research on insect-like arthropods called Collembolas.

Bret Harte Preparatory Intermediate School in South Central Los Angeles, where Lawrence teaches, is 72% Latino, 28% black and 100% low-income with most students speaking English as a second language, Lawrence said. The students and their parents are thrilled. "Little things like this may mean one more student going to college," he added.

The journal contains experiments ranging from simple to complex, some conducted by one student working alone; others by whole classes. All the students get their names in the journal, Oppenheimer said.

Among the other experiments in this year's journal are: "Effects of Royal Jelly On the Common Mouse" (The bee byproduct is a definite rodent energy booster, concluded a student from John F. Kennedy High School in Sacramento) and "Effects of Bleach on Sea Urchin Fertilization" (a 100% effective urchin contraceptive-not a single egg was fertilized-a Saugus High School student found, with potentially dire environmental consequences.)

One Sacramento high school student, bent on "Inducing Dormant Behavior In Goldfish," put ice cubes in an aquarium. Three goldfish were casualties but two goldfish from a control tank died without any change to their water's temperature.

Another Sacramento high school student used a syringe to blow cigarette smoke into water containing tiny brine shrimp. Eight out of 10 of the "smoked" shrimp died within two weeks, compared to one in 10 in a non-smoking shrimp control group.

A group of students at Parkman Middle School in Woodland Hills may even have found a new species of Collembola in leaf and dirt piles at their school, Oppenheimer said. Thanks to the journal, it need not remain a schoolyard secret.

The journal has been around for five years-2,845 student research abstracts have been published, all told-but this year's journal has benefited from a new CSUN program that provides a six-week summer intensive laboratory experience for science teachers, Oppenheimer said. About a third of the teachers who submitted abstracts to the journal took the course, learning how to do complex research, and in turn teaching their students. That's how Lawrence learned about Collembolas.

Any teacher of kindergarten through 12th grade anywhere in the country may submit student abstracts to the journal, although so far, most have been California teachers of grades 6 and above. Each teacher who submits an abstract gets a free copy of the journal; parents, teachers and school officials often purchase extras, Oppenheimer said.

For more information, call Oppenheimer at (818) 677-3336 or e-mail him at

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