Kids in New Haven this summer learned how the electricity in their muscles, signalled by the brain, lifts things up — the power behind many prosthetic devices.
Just by using using a couple of light blue hand weights and a spinning chair, they took a fun lesson on why stars and planets at the center of a galaxy spin faster than those on the far reaches.
And, if their number came up, they could win a Connecticut (football) Cowboys Fan Club back pack in a raffle.
All those family-oriented activities were on display on the Green at a closing event for the summer-long “One City” Initiative.
For eight weeks, the city’s 12 community management team coordinated an extravaganza of daily activities as a first step toward creating a coalition that brings all New Haven’s neighborhoods together as an ongoing positive force.
One City co-founder Kim Harris, along with her colleague Jeanette Sykes of the Newhallville Management Team, estimated that since the launch on June 26 at least 10,000 people participated in One City activities over 60 days.
From movies in the park to a New Haven Land trust-sponsored native pollinators workshop to visits by the New Haven Free Public LIbrary’s bookmobile followed by ice cream sundae-making, 857 One City events took place across the 12 neighborhoods, Harris said.
Among the stars of many of those events were young Yale University graduate science students like Shannon Leslie and Nicholas Frattini and their colleagues from ScienceHaven, a new group recently formed by Yale Open Labs and Yale Science Diplomats.
At the Aug. 26 closing event, they were whirling kids about teaching astronomy lessons and placing electrodes on their forearms to show how electricity powering muscles cannot happen without the brain so signalling.
Loren and Josey Sucuzhanay, visiting the Green from Danbury, pronounced it “so cool” when their parents lifted their arms (as opposed to the kids lifting or flexing themselves) and the signal was not sent to the little amplifier device, which was attached to the plastic claw.
Why? Because the action was not signaled by the kids’ brains, and no electricity to power the muscles was created.
ScienceHaven demonstrators came to approximately half dozen of the One City events. While movies played on screens set up in the parks, kids were lining up to learn a little astronomy and neuroscience.
Leslie estimate that at least a couple hundred kids were exposed to science the ScienceHaven way during the summer of the One City Initiative.
One of the secrets to ScienceHaven demonstrations is that the students like Leslie are not just taking tried-and-true science demonstrations to the kids to show them how science really works in their lives, although that is the aim of the group.
In addition they are sharing their own enthusiasm, which are often very close to home, with the kids.
A neuroscience researcher at Yale, Leslie said she has a history of Alzheimer’s in her family, which is why, in part, that she is studying the role that proteins play in the disease. And techniques of neuro-signalling that she demonstrated with the kids are fundamentally similar to what she does in the lab.
“We’re eavesdropping on the signals your brain sends to your muscies,” is the way Frattini put it.
The impetus behind the One City Initiative was, as Harris put it in the early planning days last spring, that “New Haven is a hidden gem. There are so many opportunities. People just need access.”
On the day of the concluding event, she pronounced the summer successful. Pans are already underway for next summer.
Harris pointed to three features of the initiative that were not able to be achieved: A system for transporting kids and families from one neighborhood to another; a “passport,” which was conceived as a form to be downloaded from the One City Initiative site so that you could tally the number of events you went to in order to earn prizes; and the “club card,” a booklet with sponsoring local businesses that One City event attendees then present to merchants nearby an event for discount purchases. Those are challenges to work on for next summer.
Harris said the club card didn’t happen this year in part because city employees who were detailed to produce it were laid off at a critical time. She said that a new approach to the passport will have to acknowledge that many people who might use it and go to One City events don’t have easy computer access to download.
Harris met with officials from Yale University’s shuttle system, but there was not enough time to organize that either, given that planning began in April for a June launch this year.
She has met with them again and is hopeful that the shuttle, which transports Yale students during the school year, is not as busy during July and August, and just may be one of the secret weapons to make next year’s edition of One City one where the neighborhoods discover each other even more.
At the closing event, Fair Haven Community Management Team Co-Chair Diane Ecton, along with the East Shore’s Lisa Milone, distributed chalk to kids. There were 12 boxes, one for each of the management team neighborhoods. The kids took their designated boxes and immediately began to letter along the walkways of the Green.
Mayor Toni Harp strolled by to praise the summer’s effort for its 800 free events. Next year, she said, “We hope to do a lot more with businesses and the club card. We’re excited about the energy. It shows that people who live in this town believe in it.”
In September and October, Harris said, organizers will meet with the management teams and then each team’s executive board to debrief.