DiscoverE campers turn sour to sweet in taste experiment

DiscoverE campers learned about how our sense of tase works, and how to alter it, in a week-long biomedical design camp. DiscoverE camps run all summer until the week of Aug. 24.

(Edmonton) You might think biomedical engineering is too complex a subject for youngsters who have just completed Grade 6—but you’d be mistaken. A group of future engineers literally and figuratively ate up lessons during a DiscoverE summer camp this week.

 The highlight of the week-long Biomedical Design camp, in which participants learned about physical systems, cells, and our senses, was a segment on taste. After talking about the spectrum of tastes, ranging from sweet to bitter, camp leaders gave their young student a chance to alter their taste buds.

Passing around samples of Miracle Berry (Synsepalum dulcificum—a plant known to alter our perception of taste), campers were invited to sample a variety of different foods.

The Miracle Berry lived up to its name. Lemon slices now tasted like candy. Salt and vinegar potato chips were bland. Sour candies tasted like sugar.

One camper who volunteered to taste Tobasco sauce said she was surprised by the difference.

“It’s like you can feel the spice in your mouth, but you can’t taste it,” she said. “Did you try the tomatoes? They were very sweet!”

Her desk mate, a friend who has enrolled at DiscoverE summer camps since Grade 4, said it was like “rediscovering what taste would be like—if we didn’t have the sense of taste that we do.”

Another young camper suggested parents could deploy the Miracle Berry pills around the dinner table to kids who don’t want to eat their vegetables.

“It was like everything tasted backwards,” another student said. “It blew my mind.”

Camp instructors Jack Xiao and Emily Jeong say that teaching the youngsters about bio systems was a fun way to start a summer-long series of DiscoverE camps, which run until the week of Aug. 24. The two led the class in an interactive way, constantly asking the kids to come up with answers to questions, and explanations for why things work the way they do.

“School is over for these guys. They don’t want to be in a classroom, so we have to keep it fun,” said Xiao, who has earned a degree in biochemistry and is now studying electrical engineering.

Jeong, who recently graduated with a degree in bioscience, says she’s happy to be sharing her passion for STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) with the next generation. “STEM is something I’m really passionate about and it’s great to see how these kids are problem solvers. Toward the end of the week you could see them connecting the dots between things we’d covered in previous sections. Some of the answers they give us are really complex.”

So, is it possible for kids to learn and have fun at the same time? The participants seemed unamimous on that point. One camper says summer just wouldn’t be summer without DiscoverE.

“It’s fun—I bet I couldn’t go one summer without being in DiscoverE. The instructors are great, the activities are amazing and you learn a lot by the end of the week.”