UAB students bring PhUn to area elementary school

Oohs and aahs filled the Deer Valley Elementary School science lab in Hoover recently.

The third graders eyes were transfixed, and a few fingers pointed at the cause of their awe.

"It looks like a balloon," one student gasped from the right rear of the room.

So just what was taking the elementary students' breaths away? It was, ironically, an illustration of how lungs work being conducted by students and faculty from the Department of Physiology and Biophysics in the UAB School of Medicine.

With the aid of a hand pump, the UAB outreach-education team inflated a research lung to show the students how their own lungs fill with air and then compress each time they breathe.

UAB conducted an hour's worth of other interactive experiments to illustrate the science of physiology as part of National PhUn Week, the first week of November, which is sponsored by the American Physiological Society and encourages universities to share physiology learning with K-12 schools in their area. PhUn stands for physiology understanding.

"I just hope that what they got out of this is the idea that science is interesting. It's not just a boring textbook subject; it is actually hands-on and very exciting," said Ian Thornell, a physiology and biophysics graduate student who participated in the PhUn Week activities at Deer Valley Elementary.

The third graders did seem to connect with the hands-on approach to learning.

"They were blowing air in the lung, and it kept getting bigger and bigger," said third grade student Michael Poe.

"It was kind of eww — gross and squishy — but it was cool," said Claire Bevense, another of the 40 third-grade students that participated.

The PhUn Week activities, which included a second visit to Deer Valley to conduct experiments with more than 150 first-grade students, were organized by physiology fellow Edlira Clark, Ph.D., at the encouragement of her mentor, the late Dale Benos, Ph.D., the former chair of the physiology and biophysics department at UAB, who died unexpectedly in October.

"Dr. Benos was the one who said let's do this, let's share our love of physiology," Clark said. "He loved the science of our field, and he loved teaching; we did this outreach in his memory."

Now, future PhUn Week events are already being scheduled in honor of Benos. Those events will be part of the much larger network of outreach opportunities that students from many UAB departments and centers continuously engage in throughout the entire year.

"What we are so proud of here at UAB is that it's our students who step up to initiate and organize our campus-outreach efforts," said Michael Wyss, Ph.D., the director of the UAB Center for Community Outreach Development. "They want serve Birmingham and the surrounding communities."