Kara Caruthers, far right, leads HCOP instructionKara Caruthers, far right, leads HCOP instruction“What do you like best about science?” asked Kara Caruthers, MSPAS, PA-C, an assistant professor with the UAB Physician Assistant program.

A group of Birmingham-area middle school students responded immediately.

“Compounds!” said one.

“Chemistry!” said another.

“Blowing up things!” said a third.

Caruthers loves seeing this excitement for science and she wants it to continue. And that is why she is involved with the annual Health Careers Opportunity Program which is designed to increase the number of students from educationally or economically disadvantaged backgrounds who enter medical and health professions.

Caruthers and student prepare for rocket launchCaruthers and student prepare for rocket launch“I hope they remain excited about science and they see the fun in science,” said Caruthers. “We don’t want them to think it’s too boring or it’s too difficult so we are showing them a practical approach to how fun science can really be.”

SEE MORE: for photos of the event, including high school students practicing sutures on pig’s feet, visit the SHP Flickr webpage

In this session, more than 50 Birmingham middle school students, guided by Caruthers, used a mini-container, paper, water, antacids and science to build and launch bottle rockets at the UAB School of Health Professions.

“We are taking water and putting it in a canister that the students made look like a rocket. Then we add an antacid and close the canister,” said Caruthers. “The reaction between the water and the antacid causes gas. This allows bubbles to rise to the top of the canister which will then cause the canister top to pop off and that will shoot the rocket up.”

HCOP student with rocket experimentHCOP student with rocket experimentCaruthers is teaching the Law of Action (adding antacid to a canister of water and shutting the lid) and the Law of Reaction (gas forcing canister lid to pop off). Consider this a metaphor for these students. Learning that science is fun is the Law of Action. Pursuing a science-based healthcare career is the Law of Reaction.

In the end, the student’s bottle rocket experiment sputtered. Whether it was a top not on tight enough or the water spilling out when the student set up the rocket, the rockets were mostly grounded. Caruthers told the students in the Laws of Action and Reaction – she calls this a weak reaction.

She went on to explain that this is exactly why scientists experiment. And this is why scientists do not give up. Caruthers hopes that lesson, above all, is the one these kids take home.

“We want them to know that if they work hard and don’t quit then they can be a physician assistant, or a physician, or a nurse, or a physical therapist,” said Caruthers. “But they must know science because science is important for all of these healthcare careers.”

HCOP students show off experiments to mediaHCOP students show off experiments to mediaThe PA field was recently ranked inU.S. News’ Top 10 “Best Healthcare Jobs” for 2014.The UAB Physician Assistant program, housed in the Department of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences, is ranked among the top Physician Assistant programs in the country byU.S. News & World Report. For more visit www.uab.edu/PA.

And a sincere thank you to AL.com, ABC 33/40, CBS 42 and Alabama’s 13 for their coverage of this event and for spreading the message to their viewers that science is fun.