The Natural Sciences and Engineering and Research Council estimates that out of a total of 500 typical fifth-grade students, only 18 will go on to earn a science degree, and only two of them will be female. To help counter statistics like this, Mad Science, a global provider of educational and entertaining science activities, is working to reinvigorate children’s interest in science in a fun and exciting way.

“Our mission is to spark the imagination and curiosity of children everywhere by providing them with fun, entertaining and educational activities that instill a clear understanding of what science is really about, and how it affects the world around them,” explained Abel Pena, president, Mad Science South Florida. “When children learn that science is fun, they don’t see it as difficult; they don’t think it’s so complicated.”

Mad Science offers programs to children in two ways; through franchises, like the one in South Florida, and through a production company that tours fairs and amusement parks throughout the country. There are more than 160 franchises in the nation, which serve over 25,000 schools and deliver more than 195,000 presentations annually.

Pena, an electrical engineer who opened the South Florida franchise three years ago, decided to get involved in Mad Science because he wanted to mix his interest in education with the opportunity to help people. “I like that parents tell us that their children used to be afraid of science, but now love it,” he explained. “They like that their children find what we do exciting.”

Mad Science offers over 2,000 hours of interactive science content, which is shared with students in different ways. They regularly appear at in-class workshops, where they supplement the science curriculum. “In South Florida, science isn’t yet mandatory in public schools, so they concentrate more on math and reading, and maybe provide students with 30 minutes a week of science education,” explained Pena. “Parents like us, because we provide exciting science programs that aren’t conducted in school. We not only teach different topics, we give the kids an opportunity to make projects that they can take home.”

Mad Science also works with the teachers in the schools to provide an integrated curriculum that can be used before and after the science presentation. “Teachers continue to use our lesson plans to reinforce learning after we leave,” said Pena. “And these plans relate science with all of the other subjects students learn, like math, reading, language arts and art to show them how science is all around them.”

In addition to in-school events, Mad Science also holds an afternoon Science Club for children, provides pre-school through middle school programs, and sponsors special events for up to 300 children at a time. In the summer, they even customize their programs for kids while they are out of school.

Working with other agencies, including NASA, Scholastic, Kennedy Space Center, Oral B, Toys ‘R’ Us, and Warner Brothers, Mad Science also provides specialized programs to pique kids’ interest. A new partnership with NASA, for example, will enable children to tour the universe through the eight-hour NASA Space Academy Program that will begin next year. The company also offers a Biotech Program, which teaches children about heredity, DNA, the inner workings of the human body and bio-mechanics, and a program called Healthy Choices, which teaches students about the food pyramid and what foods they should eat.

“For the second year, we are also offering a “Women in Science” program, where we invited girls from different elementary schools to learn more about the field,” added Pena. “We are working with one of the best hospitals in Broward, where the girls go to do experiments and to learn about the contributions women have made in science. At the end of the program, we hold a graduation ceremony, and they get diplomas.”

Of course, without good teachers, even the most interesting experiments might not keep kids’ attention. “We are ‘mad scientists,’” said Pena of his staff. “When we hire instructors, we look for happy people who love children. They have to be able to spark children’s imaginations.”

And this spark couldn’t happen a minute too soon. In the next three decades, most of the scientists working at NASA will retire, leaving a void of scientific minds. “We need to motivate children now to get involved with science,” said Pena. “And if you make it fun, most of them don’t even realize how much they’re learning at the same time.”