Sharing Science at Yale

October 23, 2017

Did you know today is Mole Day? Completely unrelated to Groundhog Day, Mole Day gets its name from the number of atoms in one mole of a substance—also known as Avogadro’s number (approximately 6.02 × 1023). But the real purpose of Mole Day is to increase interest in chemistry—and science, broadly speaking—especially among young people.

When I was young, I enjoyed creating projects for the annual science fair or getting out my microscope to look at something I had found in the yard with my brother and sister. My father, now a retired chemistry professor, and my mother, a nurse, encouraged us to explore the world around us—from microscopic plant life to the wonders of the night sky. As an undergraduate, I discovered a passion for psychology, where I designed and carried out experiments to better understand human emotions. I am grateful to my parents and the many dedicated teachers who helped inspire and nurture my interests from an early age.

Young people in the greater New Haven area need the same opportunities to learn about science outside of the classroom. Here at Yale, students, faculty members, and staff in chemistry and many other departments are engaging with local students through the Pathways to Science program. Free events for K-12 students and their families include the Science on Saturday lectures, where eminent Yale faculty members lead discussions on dinosaurs, earthquakes, and the chemistry of cooking, among other topics. There is also a range of in-depth programs, including intensive summer workshops and hands-on demonstrations. For college students in the program, internships in a Yale laboratory provide unrivaled exposure to careers in science. 

From neuroscience to engineering, ophthalmology to molecular biology, nearly all areas of STEM at Yale are involved. Earlier this month, Professor Nilay Hazari kicked off the Pathways “open house” for chemistry, welcoming over one hundred students and their families to learn about the field and hear about STEM careers from working scientists. They toured ten laboratories, observed experiments, and learned about ongoing research projects. Some years, my wife Marta has welcomed the incoming class of Pathways Scholars—nominated by their teachers—and she has always been impressed by their curiosity and enthusiasm for learning.

Nearly 1,400 young people are currently participating in the Pathways to Science program. Over half are female, and 45 percent would be the first in their families to attend college. They are diverse in background and in interests, and their potential for discovery and innovation is boundless.

Yale is reaching students who may never have considered a career in science. I am very proud of the work Yale faculty members, students, and staff are doing to promote scientific education in our own backyard. Their efforts are a model for other universities and are putting Yale’s world-class resources to work in New Haven, our home. The success of this program highlights the wonderful potential of our K-12 students—the youngest members of Yale’s scientific community—underlining the importance of STEM education throughout the United States.

Today on Mole Day, whether or not you are a chemistry buff, please join me in celebrating science at Yale and our efforts to share the wonders of science with the next generation.