World of wonder

Hordes of butterflies dance around blooming flowers to the beat of the buzzing cicadas. A firefly lightshow floods the spaces between trees. An unlucky ant meanders into the jaws of a Venus fly trap. There’s nothing more beautiful, or alive, than the North Carolina Botanical Garden (NCBG) in summer — but not everyone gets to experience its wonders. Katie Stoudemire is changing that.

Stoudemire leads the garden’s Wonder Connection program, which brings native North Carolina plants to kids at the UNC Children’s Hospital. She can often be found at the UNC Hospital School, which provides year-round PreK-12 educational services to school-age patients. While some young patients visit the school to conduct science experiments with Wonder Connection, others can’t even leave their rooms for fear of compromising their immune systems.

After observing the beds in the neonatal intensive care unit one day, Stoudemire wondered: “What if, instead of putting the kid in the bubble, we could put the plant in a bubble?” From that, she developed the concept for the WonderSphere — a sealed, mobile chamber with built-in gloves that enables hospitalized children to touch nature without danger of infection.

After receiving two $25,000 grants — one from the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation and another from the Institute of Museum and Library Services — Stoudemire worked with the Bresslergroup to build the WonderSphere. The result was a clear dome that rests on a base surrounded by clasps to keep it sealed. Three portals feature teal, built-in gloves (two for the child and one for a parent or sibling to assist the child).

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By Alyssa LaFaro, Office of Research Communications

Published: September 9, 2016