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Vol. LVIII, No. 10
May 19, 2006

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Hundreds Take Their Children to NIH for a Day

On the front page...

On the typical workday at NIH, the most underrepresented minority on campus is children. Once a year, however, Take Your Child to Work Day remedies that situation. The sight of children in the hallways and sidewalks of campus is slightly jarring, like when a college student — inured to the company of peers-wanders past a day care center and suddenly realizes that the entire world is not age 18-35.


Gowning up is part of the kids' fun.  
The day can prove exhausting to parents and guardians. One contractor who pedaled to work with his son on Apr. 27 tried to enter the security fence Noah's Ark-style, two at a time. Already hampered by the awkwardness of piling themselves and their bikes into the small antechamber, the duo was further stymied by a voice over the intercom: "One entrant at a time, please."

Once inside the fence, the menu of attractions was largely satisfying. Among the most highly sought activities were those allowing children to don protective clothing, such as gowns and masks. At the tour of Bldg. 6B's rodent and aquatic facility, guests had to put on Tyvek suits, hair nets, face masks and booties before crossing the threshold of the rodent rooms. The get-up was half the fun of visiting, and staff kindly made the throwaway suits available to those who wanted them as post-tour souvenirs.

Although the day's events were designed to follow a time table, many venues simply welcomed all who dropped by. Over at NLM's high performance computing center, visitors could video-conference in real time with scientists at research centers around the world. As fascinating as it was to watch themselves being instantly beamed to labs in Puerto Rico and New Mexico, the children found equally enjoyable the chance to swap greetings, jokes, jibes and instant artwork via computer screens the size of whiteboards.

Youngsters practice various procedures on fake patients at the Clinical Center.

One of the beauties of the day is that, simply by being itself, NIH can be fascinating to kids. The Visible Proofs exhibit now on view in Bldg. 38 wasn't put up expressly for youngsters; anyone can go there and see a first-class explanation of the roots of forensic medicine.

Similarly, the Clinical Center complex is always interesting to tour, and can widen the eyes of even a cynical middle-schooler. On its highest floors, the hospital offers views of Sugarloaf Mountain to the north, Tyson's Corner to the west, the Mormon Temple and Silver Spring to the east and Washington National Cathedral to the south. On Apr. 27, there was a gala on the first floor for visiting fellows, and kids could wonder why the embassies of Ireland and Korea were represented in NIH's hallways. In Lipsett Amphitheater, a vendor was explaining a sophisticated new way to run multi-well assays; just outside the door, trays full of snacks beckoned lecture attendees. There was free food, too, at the visiting fellows event. Take-home message? NIH employees snack abundantly and often.

Lab demonstrations — among the day's most popular attractions — fascinate participants.

Campus concession stands and cafeterias did a land office business; the cafeteria in Bldg. 31 had a popular pizza-and-soda combo.

As the day wound down, many adults looked done in. Some doubtless returned home that evening to find unsympathetic partners declaring, "See what I deal with every day?"

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