After they tried their hand at catapulting missiles and flying airplanes, Emma Gould and Heather Blackwell decided to gather autographs.

So, with crayons in hand, they went around the classroom, asking each of their adult leaders to autograph their spiral notebooks.

"Ya'll are nice. We just want to remember this moment," Emma told the volunteer teachers, many of whom work at the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center.

"This is the best time ever," added Heather.

While gathering autographs is decidedly not scientific, the two girls spent most of their day discovering all types of science and engineering challenges in fun classes that grabbed their interest, let them experiment hands-on and gave them the freedom to be, simply, young girls enjoying each other.

The first-ever Girls' Science and Engineering Day took place Nov. 14 at the Shelby Center for Science and Technology on the campus of the University of Alabama-Huntsville. Some 454 girls in grades three through five from across Madison County attended the all-day event, which included about 20 classes on such topics as "Fun in a Hospital Laboratory," "Building a Tasty Model with Gumdrops," "The Wacky World of Weather," "Making Your Own Robot Jitterbugs," "Strawberry DNA Extraction," and "Video Games and Science: The Secret Connection."

Most of the girls spent the day wearing DNA bracelets, with different beads representing their different physical traits. Many got to spend part of the day investigating the workings of a Black Hawk helicopter that landed on the front lawn of the Shelby Center. And all got their own toy rocket to shoot up higher and higher during their picnic lunches.

"You are going to have a blast," event organizer Emily Vandiver promised the girls as the day began. "We have more than 100 volunteers here to make this a fun event for you."

Most of those volunteers were women, eager to share their experiences and interest in science with their younger generation.

"We're women who have come together who understand the importance of education," Vandiver said. "We want to show you that science is a fabulous career and a fun area to go into."

Vandiver, chairman of the Women's Leadership Council, was joined by Alice Myles, wife of AMCOM commander Maj. Gen. Jim Myles; and April Harris, Eula Battle, Margie Williams and Pam Hudson, in planning the details of the Girls' Science and Engineering Day. The event will be planned annually.

"This day has been a spectacular success," Vandiver said. "The girls are just so excited as well as are all the volunteers. We are all so impressed with how the girls are interested in science. We want to make this event grow bigger and bigger. It is a great opportunity to get girls excited about engineering and math at an early age."

Vandiver said it was important to the council to fill the day with activities where the girls could experiment on their own with different aspects of science.

"We want them to touch things, do things. We want these girls to know that it is cool to be smart," she said. "Smart girls are cool!"

In the aviation workshop, girls built paper airplanes, flew them in a competition and then modified them to go faster, straighter and further in a second competition. They also named their planes and decorated them. Between the two test flights, AMRDEC engineer Carolyn Farmer explained to the girls about lift, thrust, weight and drag. She also used the opportunity to tell the girls about Arsenal jobs related to aviation and missiles.

"We work to improve the reliability of weapon systems and aviation systems," she said. "We get to do some pretty cool stuff on the Arsenal."

Besides AMRDEC and UAH, companies and organizations assisting with Girls' Science and Engineering Day included Chick-Fil-A, Aviation and Missile Command, Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army, Alabama Public Television, Crestwood Hospital, SciQuest, Hudson Alpha and the cities of Huntsville and Madison.

"I've been real excited about being involved with this," volunteer Megan Shumate of AMRDEC said. "It's fun to see all the excitement in the girls. This is a great way to get girls involved in science