22 February 2010

Magnet Lab Open House will pull you in

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — If you like seeing things melted, frozen, launched, levitated, squeezed and stretched, then you won't want to miss the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory's Open House, taking place on Saturday, Feb. 27, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

And after touring the lab (1800 E. Paul Dirac Drive), plan to walk around the corner to 2000 Levy Ave. and learn all about electric power and energy at the Florida State University Center for Advanced Power Systems and Institute for Energy Systems, Economics and Sustainability, which will be holding their own Open House at the same time.

All events at both locations are free and open to the public.

With something for young and old alike, the Open House's always-popular annual Open House features science demonstrations, hands-on activities, and the chance to meet and talk about science with some of the world's leading researchers.

Visitors can see parts of the lab that they can't see any other day, offering an up-close look at some of the strongest magnets in the world, as well as other powerful research instruments. A special "Kids Zone" will feature science activities designed especially for young children, including painting with magnets, a bubble wall, and kiddie pools full of "non-Newtonian fluids" (better known as oobleck).

Back this year are perennial favorites such as the Potato Cannon, Einstein Ice Cream, the Penny Press, the Magnetic Shrinking Machine and lots of cryogenics demonstrations. Several demonstrations, however, are new for 2010, including:

  • The Plasma Arc: See what happens when you place a material between a welding torch containing an electrode heated to between 5,432 and 36,032 degrees Fahrenheit, and a plasma column. (Hint: there's an intense light that causes fast, high-temperature chemical reactions).
  • Vegetable MRI: Reaching 21.1 tesla, the lab's 900-megahertz, superconducting magnet is the highest-field MRI in the world. (By way of comparison, a standard hospital MRI is between 1 and 3 tesla, and a refrigerator magnet is 0.001 tesla.) Watch on a big screen as vegetables are imaged in this one-of-a-kind, locally built magnet.
  • The Avatar Planet: Over at the lab's Applied Superconductivity Center, scientists will recreate the setting popularized by the movie using levitation, plasma light and more. In so doing, they will demonstrate the scientific underpinnings of some of the movie's messages: All of the energy absorbed will be returned, and everything in nature is connected.

Visitors to the Magnet Lab's Open House are encouraged to donate a can of food or other nonperishable food item as the unofficial price of admission. All food donations benefit America's Second Harvest of the Big Bend.

Meanwhile, just up the street, Florida State's Center for Advanced Power Systems and Institute for Energy Systems, Economics and Sustainability will put out the welcome mat for members of the public who would like to tour the facilities and find out about some of the cutting-edge energy research taking place there. The all-ages Open House will offer visitors the opportunity to:

  • Race hydrogen-powered model cars;
  • Build their own, take-it-home electric motor;
  • Get a hands-on introduction to wind turbines and traditional power systems and how they operate; and
  • Learn how superconductors and fuel-cell technologies can help improve the nation's power grid.