High school students become scientists at VAEI

Local high school students became scientists for a week during Van Andel Education Institute’s (VAEI) summer camp program. The daily camps provided students the opportunity to participate in hands-on investigations and explore different challenges that scientists encounter every day. Each of the five camps covered a unique topic and challenge.

Candy Crush with Gel Electrophoresis. Students learned how to use gel electrophoresis to separate colored dyes just like scientists use it to identify DNA and test genes related to specific illnesses. They discovered how molecules move through the gel medium and how the physical and/or chemical properties of each affect the distance molecules travel.

DNA Fingerprinting: Who done it? When investigating, crime scene forensic scientists use DNA evidence to identify and exonerate suspects. During the camp, students were tasked with learning how to utilize gel electrophoresis to match “crime” scene fingerprints to the fingerprints of various “suspects” in order to solve the case.

Water Quality: A “Grand” Experiment. Students ventured to the Grand River to determine its Water Quality Index using various chemical and biological tests. Back at VAEI the water was also used to test the effect water quality has on the heart rate of model organisms.

Engineering Design Challenge: Showering on Mars. If you moved to Mars, you’d need to shower eventually, but how would you do it? During this camp students designed, built and tested a water heater that could be used on the red planet to take a shower where no one has taken a shower before!

Engineering Design Challenge: Robotics. For the final day of high school camps students were asked, “if you had to build a robot how would you do it?” They took on this challenge and channeled their inner engineer by designing their own robotic device.


The Education Institute would like give a special ‘thank you’ to the Bea Aldrink Idema Foundation for their generous support of this year’s summer camp programs. Their thoughtful gift allowed VAEI to impact the lives and futures of many more students and expand programming to include second-through 12th-graders — thank you!

VAEI is hosting summer camps for elementary and middle school students throughout the months of June and July. For additional information, click here.