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Annandale students discover Catholic science heroes

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Middle school science teacher An Cao wanted to teach his students about the science heroes of the past, such as Gregor Mendel, who is recognized for his groundbreaking work in the field of genetics. But besides a love of science, Mendel and Cao's students have something else in common: their Catholic faith. 

Every day during Faith and Science Week at St. Ambrose School in Annandale, Cao introduced the students to a different Catholic or Christian scientist, such as Blessed Nicolas Steno, a Danish bishop known for his work in anatomy and geology, or Father George Lemaitre, the originator of the Big Bang theory. The scientist of the day and other fun facts about science flashed on a screen in the school hallway. 

“All week, the students have been fixated by this,” said Principal Angela Rowley. “The teachers, too.” 

The week culminated April 5 with a Jeopardy-style game about faith and science. In addition to questions about the science heroes, students were asked which continent has the smallest land mass (Australia), what’s the center of an atom (the nucleus) and how many of each animal came on Moses’ Ark? (Trick question — it was Noah’s Ark.) Students frantically consulted with their teammates about the correct answers and clapped when they got it right. The famous Jeopardy jingle and other familiar sound effects added to the game. 

Cao, an electrical engineer by trade, hoped the week would change the perception that people of faith don’t believe in science. He also wanted to reinforce that science, while crucial, can’t tell the whole story. “Truth isn’t limited to science,” he said.

Cao finished the event with a “lab,” giving each student a piece of paper. He instructed them to carefully fold the paper into certain shapes with each fold representing the way people carefully plans their own lives. He then told the students to rip the paper lengthwise, representing God asking us to change our plans. The ripped paper unfolded into a cross. 

“Write down (on the cross), ‘Jesus, I trust in you,’ ” he told the students. “Because at some point in your life, reason and science (isn’t) going to cut it. All you have is faith.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019