Scientist Nancy Balter aka Nancy B recently visited the London Science Museum to talk about and share her passion for science. Nancy B was also there to promote her new Primary Science range. 

Nancy B is a mother of two and a scientist with degrees from Yale and USC in biology and science education respectively. Captivated by the natural curiosity of young children, Nancy is particularly proud of the science products she designs specifically for preschoolers. In 2013 Nancy B also launched ‘Science Club‘ – her namesake brand featuring scientific tools and activities that encourage young girls to explore and pursue the sciences.

What inspired your passion for science, and at what age did you first become interested in the subject?

As a young child I loved animals. I knew I wanted to be a vet and later I wanted to be a marine biologist. As I got older, I became interested in space and astronomy and dreamed of being an astronaut! By the time I graduated from college, I was sure I wanted to be a teacher.

After graduating from Yale University, I joined a teaching organization called Teach for America (TFA). TFA sends recent college graduates to teach in underserved urban and rural areas in the United States. I was assigned to teach in Compton, California. I taught math and science to 7th and 8th graders (kids ages 12-14). Although my teaching commitment was only two years, I stayed for eleven. During that time I earned my Master’s degree in science education from the University of Southern California. As a hobby, I also built a telescope from scratch (including grinding the primary mirror) and invited amateur astronomers to visit my school every year to do astronomy nights with my students.

What brought you to the London’s Science Museum?

It’s always important to see how children are interacting with our toys. This helps us to improve our products and to get inspiration for new ones. American and British education systems are different so one goal was to get British children’s reactions to our science toys””including the Nancy B’s Science Club line.

On a personal level, I’ve taken many field trips to science museums with my students in California. It was fun to spend a day seeing school science museum field trips in London!

Tell us about the Nancy B Science Club. Why do you think it’s important to get kids into science at an early age?

The original inspiration for this line had to with the recognition that relatively few women are choosing to work in scientific fields. Research indicates that young girls love science as much as boys do, but somewhere along the line girls are parting ways with science.

One hypothesis struck a chord with us: that girls are perhaps more embarrassed to take a guess in class (and be wrong) or try an unfamiliar tool than boys are. So our aim with the Nancy B’s Science Club line was, and is, to get girls comfortable with scientific tools and processes early on so that when the time comes to answer in class or step up to the lab table, they do it with confidence, and continue down the scientific path.

We started with the actual tools themselves and decided that if we made them aesthetically attractive then kids (girls and boys) might be more likely to leave them sitting out in their rooms. If a microscope, for example, is sitting on your desk all the time, then you are more likely to look through it than if it’s packed away in a box. Once we started re-designing the tools, we got really excited about adding cool kid-friendly features, such as a red light built into the MoonScope tripod to protect from night blindness when reading a moon map.

Even so, we were concerned that kids might just play with these tools for a few minutes and then not know what to with them. So with each Nancy B product we included an activity journal filled with things kids can do with the science tool.

How can parents introduce science into their children’s lives at home?

Most children are interested in some aspects of science ”” be it space, dolphins, dinosaurs, baby animals, being a vet, robots, etc. Finding out what those interests are and then building on them through field trips to fun science locations ”” science museums, aquariums, nature centres, etc. ”” reading books on those science topics of interest, or playing with toys that encourage that interest (such as a telescope or a microscope) are important ways to be encouraging. Another important component is to expose children to careers. For example, if a child is interested in animals or being a vet, talk to a local vet about having him/her spend a few hours visiting and observing during the work day.

Share with us a popular science experience for little ones.

A beautiful activity is to go outside at night with a pair of binoculars and gaze at the moon. Try observing when the moon is not full and look for craters at the edge of the shadows. It’s a magical experience for both children and adults.

There are lots of fun kitchen chemistry experiments that can be found online. A popular one is to mix baking soda and vinegar (optionally adding a little red food coloring) and watching the chemical reaction produce a carbon dioxide ‘volcano’.

If you are looking for more fun at-home science activities, I would recommend checking out the Nancy B website.

My Baba tested out the Nancy B MoonScope, which gives a clear view of the night-time sky, with Saturn, Jupiter and even the mountain ranges and craters on the moon. The perfect gift for budding astronomers!