Campers Have Survival Down to a Science

If he is ever forced to survive in the wilderness, eighth-grader Luis Gomez has science on his side.

He spent this week at Palm Beach Atlantic University learning how to brew tea made of pine needles, constructing a shelter from materials found in nature, using a compass and determining which plants are edible.

His Science Camp training also allowed him to spend time in a laboratory testing water samples for bacteria, and he studied decomposition reactions that yield carbon dioxide or oxygen.

With his new-found knowledge, the Conniston Middle School student concludes his chances of survival are vastly improved. “I’d just need to bring the right stuff with me,” he said.

In all, 80 incoming first- through eighth-graders took part in “Kid vs. Wild: The Science Behind Survival Skills,” a week-long camp presented by Palm Beach Atlantic University’s Center for Integrative Science Learning.

Next week, incoming ninth- through 12th-graders will participate in a science institute for high school students. The camp will be more advanced and will include computer modeling and extended laboratory time. The camp runs from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. June 16-20. For information, visit

During the first week, each day of the camp was dedicated to a different principle, such as fire, water, shelter and food. The last day’s focus was search and rescue. PBA faculty members led the various activities.

Guest speakers included inspectors from West Palm Beach Fire-Rescue, who spoke about fire safety, and a representative from the reptile breeding company Exotic Jungle, who spoke about snakes, turtles, alligators and other animals typically found in South Florida.

During one exercise, the campers wove durable, flexible cords into bracelets. The cords can be untied quickly and used to build a shelter.

Making the bracelets came naturally to Sarah King, a fourth-grader at South Olive Elementary. “It was actually easier than it looks,” Sarah said.

During another exercise, the camp counselors participated in a contest to see who could eat the most gross food.

As campers cheered him to victory, Dassney Pierre, a junior majoring in biology at PBA, consumed ample amounts of edible but visually unappealing foods like dried fish, fermented red bean curd, bamboo caterpillars in brine, fried caterpillars and dried anchovies.

In the name of science, he downed a large piece of mudfish for the win. “It was tough and chewy,” Pierre recalled afterward.

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Mireille Aleman directs the Center for Integrative Science Learning. She said that she hopes students gain a new perspective on science from their week at camp.

“More than having fun with eating pine needles and insects, our take-home message is that science is all around us if we care to look for it,” Dr. Aleman said.

Campers like Jonathan Larrabee, a seventh-grader at Conniston Middle, said they enjoyed learning new things throughout the week.

“As long as it’s fun, I like to learn,” Larrabee said.