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Western Springs Students Peer Into Hidden World With Microscopes (The Doings Western Springs)

Western Springs Students Peer Into Hidden World With Microscopes
Kevin Beese
The Doings Western Springs – September 12, 2014

Looking at pond water under a microscope, McClure Junior High sixth-grader Jack Whelton was almost knocked out of his Batman socks.

“Oh, my gosh!” he exclaimed “It’s so cool!”

Jack’s up-close peek at a snail and water fleas was memorable, and that was just what McClure science teacher Scott VonBank was hoping for when he set up Microscope Day six years ago.

 McClure student with microscope

On the first Friday of September every year, VonBank welcomes college friend Jeff McGinn, president of McCrone Microscopes & Accessories, to his sixth-grade science classroom to show students top instruments and talk with them about business uses for microscopes.

From helping police with crime scene evidence to authenticating works of art to examining samples brought back from a NASA space shuttle, scientists rely on microscopes for a variety of uses, McGinn told students. The image of a scientist as a man wearing goggles and a lab coat and sporting crazy hair is a little dated, he said.

“Seventy-five percent of the people I work with are female,” McGinn said.

McClure student with microscope

One of the instruments that McGinn brought to McClure on Friday was a scanning electron microscope, a high-powered machine that amplifies images 60,000 times. He used the microscope to show a sheared screw and how scientists use the machine to answer questions about manufacturing defects and other items.

Students used microscopes during their class periods to examine salt, moths, cicadas, cheek cells, pond water and faulty screws.

Sixth-grader Lauren O’Rourke enjoyed the experience of looking at things not visible with the naked eye.

“We were able to see things close up, and we got to see how scientists use microscopes,” Lauren said.

Jack Whelton also appreciated the opportunity.

“It was really cool to see things, to go to the different stations and see things under the microscopes,” Whelton said. “I liked that they tried to show how microscopes are involved in different things. Some of the things looked ginormous.”

VonBank and McGinn were good friends at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and when they both got into their professional careers, they talked about finding a way to get microscopes in front of students. The result was Microscope Day, which has now been going strong for six years.

“It’s an introduction to science and microscopes for the sixth-graders,” VonBank said. He hopes to add a more advanced program on microscopes for McClure eighth-graders in the near future.

McGinn explained to students that scientific evidence is everywhere.

Pressing his hand down on a desk, he noted that things that had been on that spot of the desk were now on his hand and that skin cells from his hand were now left on the desk. He said that is how police link offenders to a crime scene.

He further illustrated the concept by using a piece of tape and sticking it to the bottom of student Sophia Badgett’s shoe at one point.

Putting the piece of tape under a microscope that projected the image onto a screen in the front of VonBank’s classroom, he showed students the dirt and fibers that were on the shoe.

“I’ve seen all kind of things on the shoes,” McGinn told one of VonBank’s afternoon classes. “I have seen sparkles.”

McGinn said he enjoys his annual visit to McClure and sharing information with students.

“For a lot of them, it is their first time with this kind of equipment,” McGinn said. “I get to do this one time a year and it is a lot of fun. It is like a vacation day for me.”