25 January 2013

Open House is Tallahassee's biggest science event!


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Think of it as a giant science festival, complete with cryogenic rocket cars, frozen flowers, shrinking quarters, ice cream made with liquid nitrogen, levitation and things that go boom.

It’s the MagLab’s Open House — Tallahassee’s biggest family science event of the year — on Feb. 16, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s all free, but please bring a canned good to donate to the Second Harvest of the Big Bend.

Some of the biggest and most powerful magnets on the planet are housed at the lab. During Open House, the MagLab’s more than 250 scientists and engineers will demonstrate some of the complex science principles they use daily in the most fun ways they can dream up. We’ll have about 90 different science demonstrations going on simultaneously, and more than a dozen community partners with booths, demonstrations and experiments.

One of the lab’s most popular demos is Einstein’s Ice Cream. Physicist Hans van Tol, who moved from Holland a decade ago in order to work with the MagLab’s cutting-edge electron magnetic resonance machines, will crank out gallons of ice cream faster than you’ve ever seen. While it may take 4 hours to make a regular batch of homemade ice cream, van Tol can whip up a half-gallon of vanilla, chocolate or any other flavor in 8 minutes. How? He uses liquid nitrogen to make the cream freeze super fast.

“Most of the science we do here at the lab is done at very low temperatures, and so normally we use liquid nitrogen to cool down our experiments,” van Tol says. “But on this day, we use our liquid nitrogen to cool down the ice cream and make people happy.”

There’s plenty for you to do, too. You can set off a water rocket and manipulate the air pressure, amount of water and launch angle in order to change the speed and height of the rocket.

You can watch a pickle transmit electricity — and glow as it’s literally cooked in the process — or you can launch a potato from a special veggie cannon, a demonstration of the conservation of energy principle (i.e., that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can be changed from one form to another).

Or perhaps you’d rather experience a toroidal vortex. How? By aiming a giant, foot-wide smoke ring at a candle and trying to blow it out.

“The smoke ring is in fact a circulating doughnut-shaped mass of air and smoke which is technically referred to as a toroidal vortex,” says physicist Steve McGill, one of the scientists who works the giant smoke-ring machine at Open House. “The circulation traps the air (and smoke) within it, and the mass of air moves through the atmosphere and carries momentum, which allows it to knock over light objects at a distance.”

If mighty machines are your thing, you can witness the incredibly destructive power of a 2-tesla magnet as it flattens water jugs, or you can marvel over the lab’s 45 tesla magnet -€” the most powerful of its kind in the world (and we have the Guinness World Record to prove it!). Or you can witness a quarter shrink to the size of a dime with an impressive big bang.

There will be a variety of food trucks, too, and an open grill serving veggie burgers and hamburgers. And just down the street, there will also be two other Open House events during the same 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. hours, both on Levy Street.

One is at the Center for Advanced Power Systems (CAPS), 2000 Levy Street. At CAPS, you’ll find a variety of things to do and see — and you can even build your own extremely simple motor.

“It'€™s a good hands-on experience the kids really seem to enjoy,” says Steve McClellan, the deputy director of CAPS. When you’re done making your motor, you can take it home with you, too.

Across the street from CAPS, the High-Performance Materials Institute, 2005 Levy Ave., is hosting its first-ever Open House. They are offering 30-minute tours of some of their labs, and they will have an intriguingly lightweight, battery-powered car for you to check out. Some of the car’s body is made using carbon fibers, says Frank Allen, the institute’s operations director. Researchers at the institute focus on creating cool, high-tech composite materials.

The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory is the world’s largest and highest-powered magnet facility. Located at Florida State University, the University of Florida and Los Alamos National Laboratory, the interdisciplinary National MagLab hosts scientists from around the world to perform basic research in high magnetic fields, advancing our understanding of materials, energy and life. The lab is funded by the National Science Foundation (DMR-1157490) and the state of Florida. For more information, visit us online at nationalmaglab.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest at NationalMagLab.