This morning at the Museum of Nature & Science in Fair Park, a group of very small people in oversized white lab coats were intently pulverizing strawberries in plastic bags. "Smash your strawberry into as fine a mess as you can," urged their instructor, a considerably taller person, also lab-coated and wearing a name tag reading "Scott."
The sixth-graders gleefully did as they were told, strawberry goo oozing across the table in front of them. They seemed totally unperturbed by the crowd of reporters snapping photos of them, or by the steadily growing stream of grown-ups in suits and ties massing by the podium in front of the room.
The event was a joint press conference between Big Thought, a local educational non-profit and Unfair Park's downstairs neighbors, and the under-construction Perot Museum of Nature & Science to announce that a Big Mystery Donor was giving them quite a bit of cash. The donor turned out to be J.P. Morgan Chase, who had a rep on hand to give people from both organizations a giant check for $1.4 million.
A million of that will go to the museum, to fund the new Bio Lab, part of the Being Human Hall currently under construction at the new Perot Museum in Victory Park. The other $400,000 is to fund Big Thought's summer camp and after-school programs. There are currently 1,800 DISD kids attending summer camp at Fair Park through Big Thought's "Thriving Minds" program; they spend the morning doing their core courses, then converge on the park's museums in the afternoon for arts enrichment classes.
"It's OK if you get a little bit dirty," Scott told the mini-scientists, as the crowd of adults continued to filter into the room. The kids took their juiced strawberry goo from the bags and poured it into coffee filters. The table was starting to look like the autopsy scene from Return of the Living Dead. "Science can be dirty sometimes," he added.
"So gross!" a little girl squealed delightedly. Everybody grabbed pipettes and started to drain strawberry matter into plastic beakers spread across the table. Scott came around with a clear plastic container of ethanol and added it to each beaker, creating sticky masses that resembled gelatinous, rose-colored boogers.
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One small scientist with yellow ribbons in her hair sucked up a piece of the goo and then let it drain back out the pipette, a look of horrified fascination on her face. The whole process was meant to teach the kids about DNA extraction; at the end, each future Watson or Crick put his or her pink boogers in a plastic container shaped like a shark's tooth, then hung it around their necks with cords of red yarn.
Meanwhile, the grown-ups at the podium were saying nice things about Chase, which sunk $3 million into the Woodall Rodgers Deck Park in February 2010. Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins showed up, to name-check God (presumably for His not-inconsiderable contributions to science) and to praise Chase for its commitment to the children of Dallas.
"Everyone should give up a day of their vacation and focus on education," he said. "That's what I'm doing." He added, "If you take education, you would have no crime or sickness. ... Without education, you are nothing."
The children of Dallas, clutching their shark's teeth of DNA, looked a little bemused. Was all this talking something they were expected to pay attention to? A couple clapped confusedly, then stopped. A little boy suddenly dropped to the ground, exhausted by the pace of discovery. He sat cross-legged holding his necklace, admiring the strawberry's shade against the black of his T-shirt. Soon, mercifully, the adults packed up their cameras and turned off their microphones and began to leave. A girl with black-framed glasses smiled with what looked like relief, rolled up the sleeves of her lab coat, grabbed a new test tube, and started again.