Medical Detectives takes students on deep dive into science

Published 6:00 pm Monday, October 23, 2023

Sixth-grade students were hot on the trail for answers Monday as they worked through the process of a zombie-like outbreak with roots in the real world.

Monday’s exercise at The Hormel Institute put students into the role of researchers as part of the IJ Holton Intermediate School’s Medical Detectives class. The role-playing exercise required students to get to the bottom of a virus that leaves people with zombie-like attributes, but based on real connections to nature.

“These are modern depictions,” said Jim Thompson, Cryo-EM project specialist at the Institute who came up with Monday’s scenario. “We’re getting closer and closer to being conceivable. It’s still fantasy, but it is conceivable.”

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Thompson pointed to several instances in nature that fit the idea ranging from insects to fungi, all of which were suspects in Monday’s exercise.

As students moved along throughout the afternoon, the scenario unfolded like it would in real life. New pieces and data were being time released to add new pieces of the puzzle.

“It’s real science information pieced out before them,” Thompson said.

The scenario took the students through the steps scientists would take involving information coming from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and universities.

There were also some conspiratorial elements as the students had to deal with hidden agendas and more that could take them down the wrong paths.

What they were doing at the Institute moves alongside studies at the school including the nervous system, the human brain as well as diseases, bacteria, viruses and fungi in the past.

This is the second year of the Institute’s involvement with Medical Detectives and IJ Holton students, but it deviates from the first year where it was more a demonstration for students rather than personal involvement. Thompson said he hoped that when the afternoon was completed the students would come away with more than answers.

“I want them to enjoy the experience,” he said. But an enthusiasm for science is what I care about the most.”