Using slime to demonstrate epigenetics at the 2024 Tucson Festival of Books

April 9, 2024
An image of SWEHSC CEC members leading an activity at the 2024 festival of books.

The 15th annual Festival of Books brought together authors, presenters, volunteers, and visitors to celebrate literature and education at one of the largest book festivals in the United States. The interactive tables hosted by the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center (SWEHSC) were a smashing — and squishy – success. Participants of all ages flocked to the SWEHSC tables in Science City to learn about exposure to toxic substances through an engaging slime-decoration activity and to play environmental health trivia in exchange for fun prizes.

The “Slime Twins” activity introduced participants of all ages to epigenetics, highlighting the effects of life choices and environmental factors on individual health. Participants paired up, each starting with a blank base slime, representing a set of identical twins who share the same DNA. They then rolled dice to dictate events across life stages, choosing between two alternate paths (such as regularly eating vegetables versus frequently eating fast food). Depending on what each roll said about the individual’s life events, a new material was added to the slime. This addition of different colors of glitter and beads represented exposure to different toxic substances and emphasized the impacts of environmental exposures on human health.

At the conclusion of the activity, participants were shocked at the physical differences between their slime and their “twin slime,” highlighting how exposures and lifestyle choices can have a tremendous (and compounding) impact on our health. The activity inspired interest in epigenetics within kids and adults alike, reinforcing the significance of understanding how our lifestyle choices and surroundings can shape not only our own health but also that of future generations. Learning about epigenetics empowers individuals to make informed decisions regarding their well-being, contributing to healthier communities and a more sustainable environment for everyone who lives in them.

Participants also enjoyed playing Environmental Health Trivia, answering questions in exchange for a prize. Here’s a sneaky one:

  • True or False: You can get sunburned on a cloudy day?

Believe it or not, this one’s true! Though if you answered “False,” you’re not alone. This was the answer most missed at the event. This underscores just how important it is to have adequate sun safety education, particularly in arid desert regions like Tucson where sun exposure can lead to significant health concerns like skin cancer.

As we wrap up another incredible year at the Tucson Festival of Books, it is rewarding to reflect on the moments of discovery and connection among festival attendees. During slime and trivia, each participant’s smile was a testament to the power of hands-on learning and community engagement. By igniting a spark of interest in epigenetics and environmental health, SWEHSC aims to inspire curiosity and empower individuals to make informed decisions for a healthier, more sustainable future.