If you know the Field Museum Youth Council, you know curioCITY is our thing. The Youth Council strives to create events that inspire curiosity and intellectual thought, and usually, these are events that The Field Museum plans by itself and hopes to share with teens from across the city. These events inspire career exploration and spark a passion for science. However, on a rainy Saturday this fall, our curiosity was shared in a new way.
The day started off with members of three museums (the Youth Council from The Field Museum, Brother Rice High School’s Underwater Robotics Club from Shedd Aquarium, and the Stratonauts from the Adler Planetarium’s Far Horizons Program) gathering in our brightly colored Digital Media Studio for community-building activities led by The Field Museum Youth Council as hosts. Though the weather outside was gloomy and dark, the energy inside the room was enough to light up the day. We played games, discussed superheroes, and enjoyed snacks as we got to know each other. It was lovely to see three different museum groups coming together and becoming friends in our tight yet cozy space.
Later, in the Maori Meeting House, we bared our soles and our souls as we grouped up in sock-clad feet to work together with relative strangers. The Maori Meeting House is a meeting space of the Maori people of New Zealand where people “gather as equals to explore differences and to seek out what unifies them”, according to the Field Museum website, and this was exactly what we did. After a fun icebreaker, we all wrote down a word on a sticky note, then were instructed to form groups with at least one member from each museum group.
Chris Bresky, Teen Programs Manager from the Adler Planetarium, presented the Genius Design challenge, where we had to create a product from the different words we had written down. This rapid prototyping exercise was the perfect example of exploring our differences and combining them with one product that unified us.
As I was fulfilling my journalistic duties and taking notes on what was going on, there was something that clicked inside me. I realized just how collaborative we were being, and how this shared problem created a sense of community within us. We all brought different things to the table, and in the end we were all able to work together to create something great. Even though some of the ideas that individuals from the different youth councils had didn’t seem like they would make sense, the groups found a way to make it work and owned their ideas, no matter how silly.
This innovative spirit was definitely present throughout the whole day, and it further fueled my epiphany that this is why we were here. To learn more about something that we didn’t necessarily know much about. To contribute to these real-world problems, to solidify the idea that young people are smart and capable of creating progress in the scientific field.
When asked about using submarines to further explore the bottom of Lake Michigan after our underwater sled design challenge, Dr. Philip Willink, the senior research biologist of Shedd Aquarium, stressed the importance of the Aquarius Project, which aims to inspire space exploration in the public while also trying to find a meteorite that has descended into Lake Michigan. He said that if we could prove we could do this, then we could get funding for more projects like this in the future. There was a shared sentiment there as we realized that even though we are young, we are capable of really changing the world.
One thing I noticed was how people’s eyes lit up the same way when they were building and designing their sleds as when they were listening to diverse scientists present their research. The laughter from our previous icebreaker remained as one teen from the Adler told me that their group had “gone for the aesthetics” when designing their sled, aptly naming it the Rabucci, a combination of Rayban and Gucci. Charles from the Shedd chimed in jokingly with, “even if we lose, we still win”.
That group carried that same infectious high energy when we were listening to the scientists, and so did everybody else. I felt super grateful that I was a part of this group of curious students that were as excited to play as they were to work. We were all winners there, I realized, as we bonded with our new friends, whether it was over the information being presented to us or the friendly-competitive games of Uno that went down.
As people continued their inquisitiveness, one of the answers that often came up was, “I don’t know.” Very often, I don’t know is not an acceptable answer, because it means that there is something that is yet to be found, and science is supposed to have the answers to everything. But this time, I don’t know meant something different. It inspired curiosity. It made us want to find out more. And, from the looks on our awed faces as the scientists from the Adler Planetarium, Field Museum, and Shedd Aquarium talked about the various aspects of the Aquarius project, I don’t know was enough.
When asked why she had applied for the Stratonaut program at the Adler, Greta said she simply joined because it was interesting to her. “It sounded cool,” she says. And sitting amidst some of the smartest teenagers of the city closing the day off by chatting with Marc Fries, a planetary scientist from NASA, yeah, it was pretty cool
-Nathaly, Field Museum Youth Council Member