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Petaluma’s Kids Gran Fondo to include fun with science

Plan to go?

What: Fun Festival and STEM Fair at Sixth Annual Sonoma County Kids Gran Fondo

Where: Lucchesi Park, Petaluma

When: Sunday, May 20

Information: PetalumaKidsGranFondo.com

At the Sixth Annual Sonoma County Kids Gran Fondo, to be held May 20 at Lucchesi Park in Petaluma, children will have the chance to help kids in Sonoma County suffering with life-threatening illnesses or disabilities. Thanks to a fun science event to follow, they will also learn about another way they can help fight childhood cancer and other diseases — they can become scientists.

In the Kids Gran Fondo, participants can challenge themselves on a 1-mile, 4-mile or 7-mile route on which they can ride a bike, run, walk or roll. The funds raised from the event go toward helping sick kids. The event will continue with a Fun Festival and STEM Fair made possible by Thermo Fisher Scientific, the presenting sponsor of the Kids Gran Fondo. Thermo Fisher is a multinational company with a manufacturing facility in Petaluma.

STEM stands for “science, technology, engineering and math.”

Christopher Rea, the training specialist at the facility, says including a STEM Expo at the Kids Gran Fondo makes sense. It conveys to kids that another way to fight deadly disease among children is to become disease-fighters themselves by pursuing careers in science. This message is directed especially at female and minority children, who are under-represented in the science professions.

“We try to expose kids to fundamental aspects of science by making it fun,” Rea said.

At the STEM Expo, children will have the chance to make magnetic “slime” from glue and iron shavings, in the process learning about polymers and DNA.

They will make and launch “stomp rockets,” paper missiles with various sizes of fins. The rocket is placed in an empty two-liter plastic bottle. When the kid stomps on the bottle, the rocket blasts off.

They will also learn how to extract the DNA from a strawberry by squishing the fruit and adding a solution of isopropyl alcohol that breaks down cell walls in the juice.

“The kids can see the separation of the DNA precipitate,” said Rea.

Thermo Fisher gives each participant a Science Kit Swag Bag that includes genuine laboratory goggles, an apron and gloves, as well as a special “Be STEM-Credible!” notepad and a four-color “Frog Pen” for recording experiments. At the end of the STEM Expo, there is a treasure hunt for the kids. The company, which owns Nalgene water bottles, will give the kids a Marvel Superheroes version of the bottle.

According to Rea, childhood cancers — the primary focus of the Gran Fondo fundraising effort — are different from adult cancers, but until recently little was known about genetic alterations that drive such childhood cancers. To help address the problem, Thermo Fisher has established the International Childhood Oncology Network, a resource to develop a global community of researchers who collaborate by sharing data, protocols and best practices. Members can access data sets that are uploaded by other members.

The company has also recently launched the Oncomine Childhood Cancer Research Assay. In collaboration with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, the assay targets mutations associated with pediatric and young adult cancers by combining gene amplifications and fusions in a single panel. The assay interrogates 203 unique genes representing multiple gene classes.

Additionally, Thermo Fisher played a major role in the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. That award went to three scientists whose developments in cryo-electron microscopy have broadened the use of this technology. To achieve the breakthrough, the researchers worked with systems manufactured by Thermo Fisher.

Plan to go?

What: Fun Festival and STEM Fair at Sixth Annual Sonoma County Kids Gran Fondo

Where: Lucchesi Park, Petaluma

When: Sunday, May 20

Information: PetalumaKidsGranFondo.com

The Petaluma factory manufactures pipette tips, micro-centrifuge tubes and other tools used in medical research worldwide. The tubes, for example, are used for separating blood components. The factory has 114 employees and has been in operation in Petaluma since the 1970s. It began as Point Plastics, with the founder-owner selling pipette tips out of the back of his VW van. The factory still uses some of the original machines, although newer ones produce many more units much faster.

Andrew Setikas, senior director of corporate accounts for Thermo Fisher, says that one of the company’s core values is to be “the most admired company in the world.” To that end, Thermo Fisher devotes resources to encouraging an interest in science among children.

Setikas lives in Petaluma but works all over the U.S.

“I occasionally judge student scientific competitions in the Bay Area,” Setikas said. “So often when I ask a winning student how he or she succeeded, the answer is that dad is an engineer or something like that. So it’s important that kids without that advantage learn early that science is color blind and gender blind — and that it’s fun.”

This will be the second year that Thermo Fisher has sponsored the STEM Expo as a part of the Kids Gran Fondo. Worldwide, the company has engaged thousands of students through STEM education programs.

“I think it’s pretty cool that such a large company is supporting the Kids Gran Fondo,” said Steven Cozza, executive director of the organization that puts on the event, Race for Kids. “Their help ties in well with the science aspect of the fundraiser. While the kids are raising money to help children with cancer, Thermo fisher is creating the equipment needed to win the fight.”