She’s three minutes late and Miss Nebraska plops her makeup bag next to bottle of extraction fluid. She bobby-pins a crown to her blond curls and hurries to the front of the crowd, where a dead shark and the overwhelming stench of formaldehyde await her.
“I would shake your hand, but I’ve got fish goo all over them,” said Michael Sibbernsen, science and technology coordinator at the Strategic Air & Space Museum, as he handed her a white lab coat.
On Saturday morning, Miss Nebraska 2013 JaCee Pilkington assisted her first-ever dissection as part of the museum's 60 Days of Science program. The program aims to promote a variety of sciences in new ways, Sibbernsen said — and it’s hard to get more unique than a pageant winner digging through shark entrails.
“At SAC, I like to think its 365 days of science,” Sibbernsen said. “But these 60 days are something different. We're doing something out of the box."
Pilkington listened attentively, along with a crowd of about 40 children and adults, as Sibbernsen explained how the liver’s oily coating contributes to the shark’s buoyancy. She flashed a winning smile as she rubbed the shark’s ilium, and she wasn’t satisfied when Sibbersen finished the demonstration.
“I want to see it’s teeth!” she said.
After the demonstration, Sibbernsen walked around from table to table, showing the kids how to extract DNA samples from a strawberries, crime-lab style.
The goal of 60 Days of Science is to complement lectures with hands-on experiments, enticing both the right- and the left-brained. As current engineers and mathematicians move toward retirement, Sibbernsen said exploratory learning like 60 Days of Science is essential to encourage future scientists.
“I like to do a multilayer experience,” he said. “We need to bring in more kids with opportunities they won’t find in the classroom.”
Pilkington said promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education is an important principle of the Miss America Organization, but she didn’t really understand what she was getting into when she agreed to visit 60 Days of Science.
The annual Punkin' Chunkin, a pumpkin catapulting competition in Petersburg, was pretty strange, she said, but Saturday’s dissection might take lead as her weirdest engagement since taking the Miss Nebraska crown last June.
“Yeah, that was pretty rank,” she said. “Do I smell like fish?”