- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 7, 2005

Sharing a person’s passion for her career can become an immediate educational experience on the World Wide Web.

Take the case of microbiology doctoral student Kathryn Lougheed, 25. Six months ago, she created a Web site in her spare time — when she wasn’t in the lab trying to grow bacteria.

Geared toward younger students, the cyber-stop shares her enthusiasm for science while delivering knowledge through a mixture of hands-on discovery and answers to some of life’s most interesting questions.

RatLab

Site address: www.ratlab.co.uk

Creator: Miss Lougheed maintains the nonprofit site from London.

Creator quotable: “I created this site to try and spread my love of science to anyone who is interested in the world around us and how it works. RatLab tries to be fun and educational at the same time, to get both kids and adults/big kids interested in science,” Miss Lougheed says.

Word from the Webwise: Although RatLab defines itself as a place “where all the mad scientists go,” it’s a place where middle schoolers and high schoolers can hang out to find out why they have to learn about chemistry, biology and physics.

Through an easy-to-navigate design, visitors will home in on four sections peppered with colorful pages marked by cute little rat heads and footprints, exploring topics concerning everyday science at work.

First, Facts presents answers to life’s most baffling questions for many youngsters, including “How do we age in space?” and “Is chocolate poisonous to dogs?” Each entry gets a couple of concise paragraphs on the subject as well as an occasional photo and links to other Web sites for further investigation.

Next, Try This delivers 14 away-from-the-computer experiments. They range from creating giant bubbles to making plastic to testing enzymes. All of the experiments also get a page explaining the scientific principles involved.

For those who might want a career in science, Profiles provides nine bios of students learning about subjects such as forensic chemistry, microbiology and biotechnology. The students answer some questions on why they wanted a job in science and what they hope to accomplish.

Finally, Articles devotes pages to a mixture of topics that include titles such as “Stem cell hope for Parkinson disease,” “How to choose a PhD” and “TB or not TB — is this a global epidemic?”

Ease of use: This site relies on text and illustrations to put across its scientific points, so users with even the slowest Internet connections and most basic browsers should be able to appreciate all the pages.

Don’t miss: Within the page devoted to DNA (linked under the “extract DNA” experiment), Miss Lougheed has sneaked a simple challenge that furthers the understanding of these basic strands of life. The Replication Game requires a player to select which nucleobase attaches to its complement. OK, its not Halo 2 or even Tetris, but it does its job.

Family activity: As stated above, the site offers a nice selection of experiments using household items. I enjoyed showing my 5-year-old the classic trick of getting a hard-boiled egg into a bottle, demonstrating pressure principles, and launching a minirocket with the help of an Alka-Seltzer tablet to show the reaction between an acid and a base.

Cyber-sitter synopsis: Considering the age of the site and the fact that it’s a hobby rather than a funded venture, Miss Lougheed has done an excellent job of giving students a place to understand quickly some basic science concepts without taxing their equipment with program-heavy presentations.

Overall grade: B+

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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