Robots, rockets, zombies await summer campers at MSSM

By Lisa Wilcox, Aroostook Republican & News
Posted July 10, 2013, at 2:28 p.m.

LIMESTONE, Maine — The images that the phrase “summer camp” conjures probably include lakes and canoes, bunk beds, campfires and bug bites. But for Limestone’s Maine School of Science and Mathematics summer campers, their experience includes robots, rockets, crime scene investigations and zombies.

In its 16th year, MSSM Summer Camp is designed to inspire and encourage children ages 10 through 14 to pursue their passions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.

“The camp was originally started to get girls interested in science and math,” said MSSM Summer Camp Director Lisa Smith. “And it has worked. This year our girls’ weeks are full and we have 70 girls on the wait list.”

Offering courses with names such as Rube Goldberg Crazy, Archaeology Rocks and Vertebrate Vibes, the MSSM Summer Camp program provides an opportunity for participants to exchange ideas and experiences with like-minded peers and learn from a staff who share their STEM passion.

Campers gain hands-on experience and are allowed to delve deeper into these subjects, giving them a taste of what a career in their chosen field would be like.

This year’s summer program started on June 23 and runs through July 27, with three weeks of classes for boys and two weeks for girls. Response has grown so much in recent years, that an extra week was added for boys this year, and the camp is looking at the possibility of adding a week for girls next year.

“This year is the most number of campers we’ve ever had,” Smith said, with more than 100 students booked for each week of camp.

Campers come from all over the country, but the majority are from Maine and are repeat participants. Most room in the MSSM dorms during their one- or two-week stay while some local campers commute.

Courses in Rube Goldberg machines, rockets and robotics have been offered for several years at the camp, but this year’s program saw the addition of instruction in crime scene investigation and the impending zombie apocalypse.

According to Smith, campers in the Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse course dissect sheep brains to learn about all the parts of the brain.

“They discuss the normal function of different parts of the brain, and then discuss how the ‘zombie virus’ would impact the brain,” Smith said, adding they also learn about epidemiology and how diseases can spread and be prevented.

Always popular, the Rube Goldberg course teaches the campers about Newton’s laws of physics, allowing them to work in teams to create elaborate machines with the purpose of doing things such as placing a golf ball into a hole.

“No matter how many times you try, you will have a lot of fails,” admitted camper Brandon Gosselin, who had been working with his team on the golf ball machine all week.

Those interested in veterinary medicine could elect to take a course taught by a Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine student and take the course Understanding the Mammalian Body, where the students were guided in the dissection of a fetal pig.

Campers with an eye toward the sky could learn about space exploration and rocket building, and technology-minded participants could learn about computer programming and robotics.

The food chemistry course allows students to make pickles light up and start a fruit fire, while those interested in a career focusing on the more scientific aspect of law enforcement were able to be the lead investigator in a crime scene and could learn how to make and break codes.

In addition to the STEM classes, campers are also provided with the opportunity to participate in more conventional camplike activities such as swimming, laser tag and rock climbing.

For more information about MSSM’s Summer Camp, visit the school’s website at www.mssm.org.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/07/10/news/aroostook/unprecedented-experiences-await-summer-campers-at-mssm/ printed on August 23, 2014