CNSM’s Science Potpourri inspires a love for science

Josh Hartman / Sun Star

Over the course of Saturday, April 9 hundreds of parents, children and other attendees participated in science-themed activities and events in the Reichardt Building at the 21st annual Science Potpourri. Attendees were given balloons, sat inside a planetarium and piloted a NASA mining robot, amongst many other things.

The College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (CNSM) hosts Science Potpourri every year.

“It’s grown over the years,” Paul Layer, dean of the CNSM and one of the main organizers of Science Potpourri said. “When we started, mostly it was just geology and chemistry, now we’ve brought in physics, biology, veterinary medicine, natural resources and fisheries.”

There were booths and activities run by non-CNSM groups such as the Alaska Herpatological Society, the Alaska Earthquake Center, Earthscope, the UAF NASA Robotics Team and the UA Museum of the North.

“The main purpose is to bring the community onto the UAF campus, especially younger kids, and show them that science can be fun,” Layer said.

The Science Potpourri included large demonstrations inside and outside the building. One large display showed how sound waves travel through the air. Here Brandon Burkholder, a Physics graduate student, explained the science of sound waves to the group.

A long pipe with a line of holes along the top sat in front of a classroom.  Physics graduate students pumped gas and a loud, single-pitched sound through the pipe. Flames danced out of the holes along the top as the graduate students changed the pitch of the sound.

When sound waves travel through the air they create areas of high pressure and low pressure. Where the pressure is high it pushes the flames further out, while where the pressure is low, little flame comes out.

“When I talk, I’m talking in a bunch of different tones which is what makes my voice different from your voice because you have a different collection of tones based on the shape of your vocal cords,” Burkholder said.

For another show, hundreds of people gathered outside of the Reichardt Building to watch explosive chemistry demonstrations by a group of scientists including Sarah Hayes, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at UAF. She has done demonstrations for the Science Potpourri for the last four years.

Hayes showed the attendees that fire needs an oxidant and a fuel to burn by burning an oxidant and a fuel in the form of a pure oxygen balloon and a pure hydrogen balloon, respectively. The largest explosion came from a balloon filled with both oxygen and hydrogen. She also created colored fireballs with the by adding elements that color the flame they’re burned with.

Hayes hopes that the children will leave the event excited about science and an understanding of the science around them.

“Science is just so neat, and it’s so integrated into our everyday lives even if we don’t recognize it,” Hayes said.

One of the participants, David Atkins, an 11-year-old, visited the fossil room, tried liquid nitrogen ice cream, cut rocks and learned how to record earthquakes.

“On the earthquake scale if there’s a big earthquake and there’s a bigger earthquake it shrinks the first one down,” Atkins said, about what he learned. “That was my favorite part.”

“I just thought all of it was interesting, especially for the kids,” Sonya Stoball, an adult who was with Atkins. “Knowing that [Atkins] is into science and all the stuff that he got to experience.”

The “Augmented Reality Sandbox” was set up in a dark room. Above the sandbox sat a projector projecting a topographical map onto the sandbox. Children were creating mountains and valleys and the projector would change color to reflect the elevation of the sand structures.

If the children held their hand above the landscape like a cloud the projector would show rain. If children created mountains and valleys, the projector would light up the landscape with different colors to reflect the elevation of the sand structures. If the children held their hand above the landscape like a cloud the projector would show rain.

On the third floor, there was a long line of people getting ice cream that was being made with liquid nitrogen, which has a boiling point of -196 degrees Celsius.

“We like it because it’s fun for us to show off what we do,” Layer said. “But really it’s a chance for the kids to explore, to try different things, to make a mess, to see that science isn’t just what you read in books.”

The Science Potpourri was sponsored by the Arctic Division of the American Association of the Advancement of Science,  Shannon and Wilson Inc. and Sigma Xi.

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