The Friday night science club

The Friday night science club

UF researcher runs science club for kids in Northwest neighborhood

By Jamie Harrison

College of Medicine professor Art Edison works with students at the Pineridge Science Club./Photo by Maria Belen Farias

On Friday evenings, while most professors are winding down from their work weeks and spending time with family, Art Edison, Ph.D, is busy volunteering at the Pineridge Science Club.

Despite his busy schedule, Edison, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the College of Medicine, is no stranger to lending his expertise to community service programs. He started a similar club in 2004 at Prairie View Elementary School.

Pineridge is a low-income neighborhood in Gainesville. The science club was first started as an outreach project by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville, which did a survey of residents and found that one of the biggest concerns was a lack of activities available for children outside of school.

Photo by Maria Belen Farias

The neighborhood has a huge crime and drug problem, Edison said.

Initially, the volunteers included just Edison and his wife, Katherine. They would have anywhere from about six to 12 kids at a time, and crowd control quickly became a problem for the two lone volunteers.

But in 2009, one of the property owners donated an apartment for the club. Prior to this move, the volunteers had to shuttle the children from their neighborhood to the church. The city of Gainesville is also providing funds for utilities. The police department has become more involved with community work there, too.

Last year, Edison put out a call to several students in his lab and from the Health Science Center. In return, he ended up with four to five dedicated undergraduate and graduate students to help with the club. Some days there are eight to 10 volunteers.

“Now this thing has just transformed, and it’s just incredibly uplifting,” Edison said. “We have this apartment and it’s small and it’s modest and there’s not a lot of room for activities, but every day of the week from 3:30 to 5 p.m., there’s an activity for the kids.”

Each week, the children begin with a socialization activity, then take a snack break before moving on to the science activity. They also alternate science activities with math exercises.

“The science activities are incredibly simple,” he said. “It’s almost all done with things that we can get from Publix. The most complicated project that we recently did was extracting DNA from a banana.

“We’ve also made liquid nitrogen ice cream, which was really fun for the kids,” Edison said.

The community center also offers a drama club on Wednesdays and tutoring sessions on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“This year, especially with the community center, it feels like a club,” Edison said. “When I drive up, there are four to five kids waiting. And they yell ‘Mr. Art, Mr. Art!’ It feels like a nice end to the week.

“The goal of the science club is not so much to teach them, I’m hoping that their schools are doing that, but saying ‘Science is so cool.’ It’s a fun thing. You don’t have to be a football or a basketball player. There are things that they can do that are probably much more accessible to any of them if they work hard.”