"Flu" experiment engages Math Girls at CCA event

 The experiment is compelling enough to hold the attention of an entire roomful of teenagers: Take 125 girls and assign each one a test tube filled halfway with liquid representing bodily fluids. Then have the girls interact with each other to mix the contents of the test tubes. Add a chemical to turn any “infected” liquid bright pink. Then, challenge them to determine who spread the original illness.

The activity illustrates how quickly the flu can spread from one infected person to another, and it engaged high school students from throughout Aurora who took part in “Math Day for Girls” at the Community College of Aurora on Feb. 11.

The event emphasized how math skills can contribute to success in health careers. Following the “flu” exercise, the girls estimated the rate at which disease spreads and looked at the mathematics of exponential increase. They discussed aspects of disease transmission and ways to prevent the spread of an infectious disease. They also explored other factors that influence the risk of getting an infectious disease and completed a graph of exponential growth demonstrate rapid transmission of the flu.

Students also had the opportunity to hear from featured speaker Maranke I. Koster, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver, and they engaged with a panel featuring Kathy McCreary, University of Colorado Hospital; Kelley Nicholson, University of Colorado Hospital; and Margaret Ann Foy, United Airlines.

“Math Day for Girls is a venue for young women to be surrounded and supported by individuals, specifically women, who are in the fields of math and science,” said Shari Holder, faculty member in CCA’s mathematics department. “Many young women do not pursue careers in the sciences due to a lack of role models or because they don't know what career options are available.” Holder coordinated this year’s Math Day activities.

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