Science Superstars

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

IT sounds nerdy, but wait till you hear the whole story.

If baseball trading cards have captured the imaginations of generations of American youth, helping to build superstardom for heroes of the country's national pastime, what would happen if someone introduced... well, scientist trading cards?

Probably there'd be no stampede of kids memorizing the atomic numbers in the periodic table - instead of earned run averages - to bring United States math and science test scores back into the world's top ranks.

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But, from a far western corner of the US comes the accidental discovery that for some kids, scientist trading cards are a neat idea.

In a promotion aimed not at youth but the media, to raise the school's profile in research fund-raising, the Oregon Graduate Institute of Science and Technology last September issued a series of trading cards featuring faculty members, explains Bob Applegate, director of public relations at the institute.

"It succeeded beyond our expectations," he says. "Our largest response was unsolicited, from parents, teachers and kids 9, 10, 11, and 12."

More than 300 requests for the trading card series came from kids, parents, and teachers.

The cards are the same size as baseball trading cards, but they are not full color, and they include more information.

They feature scientists like Bets Rasmussen, a chemist who studies elephant reproduction and lists water skiing and scuba diving as hobbies; and Ronald Cole, a windsurfing, espresso-drinking computer scientist who develops voice-operated computers.

Donovan Cahill, a 13-year-old from Beaverton, Ore., said he read about the cards in a magazine and ordered them immediately.

"I collect baseball cards ... about six or seven boxes of them. These [science trading cards] are pretty neat because they have lots more information on them and you can compare them and read about them," says the Oakland A's fan, who wants to be a chemist when he grows up.

Dundee, Ore., residents Beth Gilden, 7, who is an aspiring doctor, and her nine-year-old sister, Julia, who hopes to be a math teacher, both got the nine-card series. They both immediately found "the lady and the elephant" card to be their favorite, says Julia.

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