In 2011 Alexandra Pyryaeva (Trushina) graduated from Novosibirsk State University holding a degree in Chemical and Biological Physics. Now she is a third year post graduate student of the Institute of Chemical Kinetics and Combustion under the Russian Academy of Sciences. She is writing a PhD thesis on Chemical Physics, Combustion and Explosion, Physics of Extreme States of Matter. But she is more than just a scholar now. And it all started with the project “Science for Kids” which Alexandra and her friends initiated when they joined the Federal Scholarship Program of the Vladimir Potanin Foundation in 2008.
The project “Science for Children” which started in 2008 and is still working was created with the idea to popularize science among kids. Alexandra and her friends - students, postgraduates and young scholars - are trying to motivate school kids to study science, telling them about modern science life and the last updates on it and revealing prospects of it in a ‘peer to a peer’ format. It helps to explain to kids that science can be interesting and fascinating, giving much potential for those who love it and are not necessarily geeks or bores. The project is evolving each year enhancing and covering new spheres. The project team members work with orphans, serve as tutors, give special courses at schools.
Naturally the initial goals were by far less ambitious. In 2008 Alexandra for the first time applied for the Federal Scholarship and won it (she was to win two more scholarships in the next years). And the team she formed with other scholarship holders was set a task to think of a volunteer project and implement it as a team in case they won it at the Business Games which took place in Krasnoyarsk. It was then that after some brainstorming sessions somebody came up with an idea of popularizing science among school kids in Novosibirsk, to break a pervasive stereotype of a crazy nerd in a white cloak a la Emmett Brown from the film “Back to Future”. This topic was more than familiar for all the team members who themselves had very vague ideas about what scholars and scientists are like when choosing their future profession and knowing nothing about their possible career. However the project was not to win that year and due to lack of experience the team could not raise any funds for it. But even that failure did not discourage the young scientists determined to bring change.
The situation changed in 2009 with new twenty winners of the Federal Scholarship Program. This time the team had an opportunity to split into several subgroups and present several projects at the Summer School. Despite the fact that many tried to persuade them to give up the idea of submitting the project “Science for Kids” for the second time, their small team took the risk. Funnily, disagreement with their trainer and a need to fight for it at the Summer school helped them to polish up the project and to win as a result.
Alexandra has been the head of the project “Science for Kids” from 2009 to 2012, she grew and developed along with it, improved her skills, rejoiced the victories. Even now, having stepped aside a bit, she still serves as its “guardian angel” advising younger generation of lecturers and organizers. After 5 years of its successful operation it’s difficult even to imagine that they started from scratch. “I have to admit that but for the responsibility for the grant to the Vladimir Potanin Foudnation, the team and participating schools, I might have given it up. When we just started building a team, getting the necessary documents, writing lectures, we could not even imagine how much support the Foundation would provide to us not only financially but even with a simple piece of paper with a stamp and with good credentials given by the Foundation to our team. This paper became our carte blanche which helped to open many doors for us. It is a real challenge to establish contacts with University authorities, school headmasters if you are nobody from nowhere for them. At school teachers often saw us as intruders, not educated or experienced enough to teach kids”, recalls Alexandra.
They started with 7 schools the first year and just to compare in the spring semester of 2012 alone they received 50 invitations from 50 schools in Novosibirsk, Altay region and Zheleznogorsk as their popularity and recognition grew by word of mouth. Their initial team of 7 people back in 2009 now grew into 80 people, 10 scientific branches and 47 unique lectures. In 2009 the project “Science for Kids” was called the best implemented volunteer project at the Foundation’s Summer School. In 2011-2013 it won numerous awards with more to follow. The team now has Novosibirsk State University and the research center “Dio – Gene” as their partners. They have communicated with 14 000 school kids, visited dozens of cities in Russia and even Kazakhstan, while their pupils become students of Novosibirsk State University who chose science as their future profession and are grateful to them for that.
“I am really happy that “Science for Kids” helps school children to make their choice – that was our idea back in 2008 when we were creating this project. But I am also glad that everyone who joins our project can take the path he or she prefers - whether to become a lecturer or an organizer, gaining necessary skills of an orator or a manager. I myself have tried all the steps from a lecturer to a manger, from a photographer to a web-designer, learning to work with documents, work in a team, look for partners and most importantly to take responsibility. And now it’s our turn to share this knowledge with our younger colleagues”, says Alexandra.