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Making the Next Generation of Scientists

 |  NYCEDC

Dr Aaron Kyle

Photo Credit: Tim Lee

Experiential laboratories are changing the way New York students learn science.

Dr. Aaron Kyle initially went into engineering because he preferred working with machines over people. But a few years into his grad program at Purdue University, Dr. Kyle started teaching undergraduate courses and found that he actually loved working with students.

“It was the most exciting thing I did in grad school,” he said. “After meeting my wife, of course.”

Today, Dr. Kyle directs the HYPOTHEkids Maker Lab, an initiative of Harlem Biospace, that helps develop New York City students’ skills and interest in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Harlem Biospace (Hb), which is funded by NYCEDC, acts as an incubator for companies in the biotechnology and healthcare industries and also hosts student programs. Maker Lab is a six-week summer program for public high school students held at Columbia University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. There, students learn intensive chemistry, electrical, and computer engineering skills in order to develop low-cost technologies geared towards solving some of the most pressing global health problems.

“New York City has all the components to be a thriving global capital of biotech research and development,” said Kyle Kimball, president of NYCEDC. “Our ability to fully realize and sustain this potential over the long term is, in part, dependent on our ability to foster generations of scientific problem solvers."

hypothekids

Photo Credit: Tim Lee

We want the next generations to be populated by New Yorkers who have the curiosity and ability to create the next wave of companies, and occupy the good jobs that grow out of them.

- Kyle Kimball, President of NYCEDC

Christine Kovich, Harlem Biospace co-founder, thinks Maker Lab is doing just that. “Most students have no exposure to this kind of hands on, iterative design process,” she said. “Our hypothesis is that this kind of exposure to applied STEM, particularly focused on working on a tangible problem, will motivate students to pursue STEM careers.”

After just a month and a half of training, these are some of the solutions the students came up with towards solving global health issues:

  • Baby Jam: low-risk vacuum extraction tube for newborn delivery
  • Vitalight: LED-based illumination for rural hospital surgeries
  • Euphoria: water-based blanket warmer that automatically regulates babies’ body heat
  • Magic Box: chemical mosquito trap that uses household materials
  • Neo Vest: light garment that measures a newborn’s vital signs
  • H20 Glow: low-cost method of filtering water

Amazingly, the inventors and marketers for these revolutionary products are 25 students, primarily from New York City Title I high schools—some of whom had no scientific training beyond dissecting a frog in biology class. 

“It didn’t matter what their base knowledge was,” Dr. Kyle says. “We got them up to speed." 

baby jam

Teams like Baby Jam developed an alternative device for newborn delivery and learned how to take their idea from concept to prototype. 

Through HYPOTHEkids, these students have been able to take their skills out of the classroom and into a place where their imaginations can run wild in the service of science and the public.

“School is where you gain tools through grades and scrutiny,” said Dr. Kyle. “But this is a place where you learn to apply those skills without having someone tell you you’re wrong.”

Much like NYC GenTech, a NYCEDC-managed program that provides technology training and mentorship for New York’s high school students, HYPOTHEkids students have an opportunity to pitch their products to leaders in the biomedical engineering industry.

vitalightLast week's winning teams, Euphoria and Vitalight, were awarded a chance to develop their product further using the state-of-the-art facilities at Harlem Biospace. The whole process helps students understand that STEM education not only has payoffs, but helps the students to see that they are, as Dr. Kyle put it, “part of a generation of solutions.”

Dr. Kyle and Mrs. Kovich hope that HYPOTHEkids can be more than just a fun summer program for a select few students. Currently, they are looking to incorporate this new curriculum into the NYC Public Education system writ large. Part of the plan is to involve public school teachers in forthcoming HYPOTHEkids programming to learn about the biomedical design process, how students interact with the curriculum, and how they might integrate these lessons and resources into their regular school classrooms.

A decade ago, Dr. Kyle thought that he’d spend his life interacting more with machines than humans. Little did he know that he’d be an integral part of an effort to change the way students across New York City learn science.

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