Since 2006, more than five thousand Hawaiʻi schoolchildren have gotten up-close with science at Gene-ius Day, a program developed by professor Ania Wieczorek of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

“Gene-ius Day is basically a science program for students in the elementary and middle school with an emphasis on the importance of agriculture and genetics in our lives,” said Wieczorek. Students are taught with a hands-on approach. “We want them to come to UH and see how wonderful UH is, and give them, kind of a sign that, if they study hard at school, they can come to UH and be part of our ʻohana,” explained Wieczorek.

Faculty and staff at CTAHR prepare simple experiments designed to engage and excite young minds. On this day, they were extracting DNA from a substance they were all familiar with—papaya. After mashing papaya fruit, they added cold ethanol, and, voila, DNA!

“I’ve had a chance to play around with microscopes, but the microscopes they use here is a new one to me, and it looks more advanced,” said Broderick Chester, an Aikahi Elementary 4th grader. “The thing I liked best was getting to use the special chemical and putting it with the papaya juice to make the DNA gel.”

For Wieczorek, watching the children get excited about science is what it’s all about. “The ‘Wow!’ moment—it’s priceless. You know, for me, I wake up every morning and I hope that today is going to be a day that the kids are going to have Wow! moment, and we actually, every time that we run the program, we have a few kids who have that unbelievable wow moment. And when the kids come and tell me, ‘now, I want to be a scientist,’ I know I have been successful.”

Students participating in Gene-ius Day