Paul and Jason lean back in their chairs behind the reception desk of the MDC.C, while four girls play table tennis across the hall. At this moment, it’s hard to imagine that this is the entrance lobby to the conference center of a scientific institution.
The MDC has hosted camps for the kids of campus employees since 2011. But this year, for the first time, seven Helmholtz Research Centers joined forces to organize a joint event. The summer camp is aimed at children aged eight to 14 whose parents work at participating centers. It offers fun leisure activities as well as laboratory-based science courses.
Measuring blood pressure and examining chicken hearts
The second day of the camp was all about the heart. The older kids conducted experiments, during which Paul and Jason were able to learn the differences between arteries and veins. They even got to take their own ECG. But the best part for the two 14-year-olds was measuring blood pressure: “It was really interesting to see how the modern equipment works,” says Paul. The values were measured before and immediately after exercise, then again five minutes later – directly on the wrist, without compressing the arm artery.
Manuela Magarin, a former MDC researcher who supervised one of five simultaneous heart experiments, also showed the boys and girls how to measure the sound level of blood pressure. Another highlight was preparing chicken hearts from the supermarket freezer. Although Jason didn't want to get involved himself, he found it exciting to watch. “The structure is almost the same as a human heart,” he recalls. “We could see the atrioventricular and semilunar valves.”
Emma Marie and Linda Antonia dissected a heart themselves – which, according to Emma Marie, was “a bit gross.” The 13-year-old preferred the experiment with water fleas. This involved placing the animals on microscope slides using a pipette, then examining them up close and counting how many times the water flea’s heart beats per 15 seconds. From this, they could calculate its beats per minute – 200 to 300. “Water fleas have no arteries or veins,” explains Linda Antonia, “which is why the heart has to pump much faster.”
Outings, sports, and games round off the camp program
Experiment-based lessons on the heart and energy formed only part of the camp. It also included outings to the planetarium and the zoo, as well as sports, games, and a varied program of evening entertainment. The variety was well received: “It was all cool stuff,” says Emma Marie. She also liked that all the kids got to “camp out” overnight in lecture halls and seminar rooms.
Paul and Jason also had a great time and want to come back next year. At 15 years old, they will be too old for the camps – but they remain hopeful. “We have already suggested that they raise the age limit,” says Paul. Either way, it will be a while before the Helmholtz Research Summer Camp returns to the MDC, as the participating centers decided the location will change every year.