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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.
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."
|Gowning up is part of the kids' fun.
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
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?"