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Increasing Awareness about Diabetes with Student STEM Projects

A new collection at Science Buddies helps students explore science, technology, engineering, and math related to diabetes.

Increasing Awareness about Diabetes with Student STEM Projects / New Special Collection of Project Ideas at Science Buddies

November is National Diabetes Month in the U.S., and November 14 is World Diabetes Day. Science Buddies is excited to launch a new special collection from its library of more than 1,100 Project Ideas that helps students explore and learn more about diabetes.

Students who have diabetes or have friends or family members with diabetes are often especially interested in doing science projects related to Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes. People with Type 1 Diabetes have access to a wide range of personal data that they record, collect, and monitor each day from blood glucose meter and continuous glucose monitor readings to carbohydrate intake and insulin amounts (both basal or long-acting and bolus or fast-acting). Even when it is not science fair season, students with Type 1 Diabetes (and their families) are often constantly doing data analysis on an ongoing basis. Making changes based on their personal data is part of the process of managing Type 1 Diabetes, a disease that requires attention and monitoring all day and every day. Turning personal data into a foundation for a science fair project not only gives the student the opportunity to do a science fair project that has personal significance, but it also helps the student learn more about the disease and, through sharing and presenting the project, helps spread awareness to others.

Given the nature of diabetes and the many factors that affect blood glucose throughout the day, when it is time to do a science project, many students are interested in angles related to variables like specific foods or the impact of exercise.

Students doing and presenting projects from the Diabetes Science collection have the opportunity to learn more about diabetes and to help spread awareness to others.
For someone with Type 1 Diabetes, even the way a long hot bath impacts blood glucose levels can provide inspiration for a science fair investigation. As students see diabetes issues play out in their own lives (or for family members), they may have a variety of questions that could be more fully explored and tested with a science project.

For example, a popular science fair project involves calculating the sugars in carbonated drinks (like soda). A person with diabetes typically approaches soda with a different mindset. When eating out, for instance, even if a person with diabetes orders a sugar-free drink, the reality is that mistakes happen&mdsash;sometimes the waiter brings the wrong drink. Unfortunately, unknowingly drinking a full-sugar drink can cause a dangerous blood sugar problem for a person with Type 1 Diabetes. Taste testing can help, but not everyone can tell by tasting whether or not a drink is sugar-free, and a person with Type 1 Diabetes can't take the chance that a taste test might be wrong. As a result, many diabetics test their soda before drinking it by using either a blood glucose meter or glucose urinalysis strips that can be dipped into the drink. How effective is this process? Do all meters work? What kind of results do different drinks offer?

Turning a problem like testing a soda to make sure it is sugar-free (and thus safe to drink) into a science project sounds similar in concept to doing a project that measures sugar in soda, but the inspiration is different. At Science Buddies, we know that students often most enjoy their science projects when they choose projects that tie in with personal interests or hobbies or have other personal significance. We also know that the more engaged a student is with a project, the more likely it is that the science fair project experience will be a positive learning experience.

While students may immediately think of diabetes as an area of study for a science project, it is not always obvious for students how to turn an idea into a well-planned science project that follows the scientific method and meets the standards required for a teacher's science project assignment or science fair guidelines.

Science Buddies knows that students often most enjoy their science projects when they choose projects that tie in with personal interests or hobbies or have other personal significance.
With the special collection of diabetes science projects, Science Buddies hopes to help students explore diabetes science and, when they have their own ideas, give them resources and examples to assist with the design of their own innovative science projects that follow the scientific method or engineering design process. Reviewing the structure of experimental procedures in similarly-themed scientist-authored project ideas at Science Buddies can help give students a framework for designing their own experimental procedures and conducting well-planned science projects.

The special diabetes collection features a set of hand-picked projects that are either specifically related to diabetes or that can be easily adapted to focus on an angle of inquiry related to diabetes. For example:

  • A popular electronics project that compares the electrolytes in juices and sports drinks takes on new angles when you focus on sugar-free sports drinks. What questions might you ask? What might you compare?
  • Computer programming tools and environments can be used to create educational and informational games or healthcare apps with a focus on diabetes. What kind of tool can you create that makes a difference in monitoring a person with diabetes?
  • Understanding the ways in which foods are broken down into glucose in the body can help students better understand food choices either for meals or for the treatment of low blood glucose. What kinds of food choices are best before exercise? What kinds of foods are best when blood sugar is low? Why do not all foods with the same number of carbohydrates impact blood glucose in the same way?
  • Exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle, but for a person with diabetes, exercise can have measurable impact on blood glucose, but the impact varies for each person. What kinds of patterns emerge when studying blood glucose in response to exercise? When do blood glucose values change? What steps can be taken to help manage blood glucose during and after exercise?
  • Creating an artificial pancreas is a project that many research teams are working on in the real-world, and with an advanced science project, students can explore the biochemical engineering involved. What challenges arise with the idea of an artificial pancreas system. What are the issues that have to be taken into account by such a system? What are the variables that affect blood glucose levels throughout the day? Can an automated system respond effectively to these changes? What will it take for people to trust such a system?

The list of example projects above highlights the wide range of areas of science students can study with a project related to diabetes. While health and human biology, biochemistry, and food science angles are often popular choices for students interested in diabetes or medicine, students can also tackle diabetes questions by exploring and building, designing, engineering, or programming their own tools and devices to help with the management and monitoring involved in living with diabetes.

With this new curated set of projects, Science Buddies hopes to encourage and enable more students to experiment with issues related to diabetes to learn more about the disease, to better understand the biology, biochemistry, and pharmacology involved, and to see ways in which engineering, computer science, and big data are all involved in talking about a disease like diabetes.


Science Buddies Project Ideas that support student exploration of diabetes and other global health issues are sponsored by Novo Nordisk.



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