26 January 2012

MagLab Open House: Come launch something!

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If you like to see stuff ignite, levitate or go kaboom, don’t miss the Magnet Lab’s annual Open House on Saturday, Feb. 18, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s fun for the whole family — and you’re sure to learn something new, too.

You’ll have a chance to build a comet, explore the microscopic world, launch a potato cannon, shrink a quarter, make silly putty, eat liquid-nitrogen ice cream, watch electricity jump from a Tesla coil to a person, touch a superconductor and a whole lot more.

“The only place you’re going to see us launch our rocket car is right here at our Open House,” says engineer Ernesto Bosque of the Cryogenics Lab’s popular liquid-nitrogen rocket car demonstration. (Cryogenics is the study of super low temperatures.) “The whole demonstration is just too big to take it on the road for outreach at schools. The rocket track alone is 12-feet long.”

The same can be said for the lab’s popular shrinking-quarter demonstration: If you want to see it, you’ve got to come to the Open House.

“I designed it to look a little like a Frankenstein-type machine,” says mechanical engineer Russell Wood of his black, 7-foot-tall machine. “What it does is, it takes a regular U.S. quarter and shrinks it down to a dime — and it still looks like a quarter. It uses a high-energy pulsed magnetic field to do that. It shows how powerful a magnetic field can be and how controlled it can be, and how you can make a powerful magnetic field do work for you.”

The incredible shrinking-quarter machine also “has a flash and a bang, and it makes smoke, so it’s very entertaining,” he adds. After each demonstration, the shrunken quarter is raffled off for free to a lucky ticket holder in the crowd.

Each year, about 5,000 people come to Open House to watch — or participate in — the 80 or so special science demonstrations created by MagLab scientists to showcase the research and the scientific principles put to work daily at the sprawling 370,000 square-foot lab.

Open House visitors get a chance to see the Big Tools scientists use everyday, too. That includes the mighty 45 tesla magnet, the most powerful magnet of its kind in the world. (A tesla, by the way, is a unit of measurement for magnetic fields. A junkyard magnet that can pick up a car is about 2 tesla, so you can see how powerful the lab’s giant, two-story 45 tesla magnet is!)

You can also see and learn about the lab’s most recent engineering feat: the 25 tesla magnet with four windows, or ports, built right into the machine’s center. The ports allow scientists to access their experiments in new ways, and are the element that makes this magnet a world-record breaker.

Just down the street, the Center for Advanced Power Systems is holding its annual Open House, too. There, you’ll get a chance to build a mini-motor and a homemade photovoltaic electricity cell and take them home. You’ll also get a chance to learn about smart energy grids, the future of Navy ships and superconducting electricity cables. CAPS will be showing off its 5-megawatt motor and its Real Time Digital Simulator, too. You’ll just have to drop by to learn more!

And while you’re having a good time and learning new stuff, you can also help out your hungry neighbors. While admission is free, please bring a canned good or nonperishable food to the MagLab to donate to America’s Second Harvest of the Big Bend. Last year, the MagLab collected 1,670 pounds of food for the Second Harvest food bank, which helped to feed more than 33,000 people in the Big Bend (nearly half of them hungry children and seniors).