11 October 2013

Spooky science show


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — How do scientists celebrate Halloween?

Some cook up a big bowl of slime. Some concoct a billowing brew of orange slush. Some even explode gooey marshmallow peeps! (All safely, of course.)

Ethan Braverman prepares to blast a marshmallow peep.Ethan Braverman, 9, prepares to blast a marshmallow peep at last year’s spooky Magnet Mystery Hour.If you’d like to join them, head to the lab’s Magnet Mystery Hour on Tuesday, Oct. 29. Kids of all ages (especially those in K-8) will have a hands-on chance to tackle these and other spooky tricks — and learn the science behind them. The fun begins at 6 p.m., with food trucks available at 5 p.m. and a brief tour offered at 5:30 p.m. for interested kids and adults. Everyone is encouraged to come wearing a costume.

“We hope some kids will be inspired to come as their favorite scientist,” says Carlos Villa, the Mystery Hour’s spooky master of ceremonies. “We’ll have plenty of experiments for them to do. We’re going to make polymer slime and have fun with glow sticks. When I say we’re going to do hands-on science, I really mean it!”

Participants will learn to apply the scientific method as they carry out the evening’s experiments. First, they’ll observe a phenomenon (e.g., a glow stick), then pose a question (can I make a glow stick last longer?), do some quick research to form a hypothesis and conduct an experiment. Finally, they’ll analyze the results and begin to draw some conclusions.

While kids often use glow sticks for trick-or-treating, most know almost nothing about how they work. Which makes experimenting with glow sticks perfect for this time of year, Villa says.

“Light sticks are super cool: You take this little plastic stick, snap it and all of a sudden it starts glowing. What you’re actually observing is a chemical reaction, although few kids ever stop to think about that way. But during our Spooky Science show, we want them to think about why the stick is glowing, so that the next time they see one, they can say, 'I know why that’s glowing and why it’s going to eventually run out. I even know how to make it last longer and make it shine brighter.' Because it’s all based on science.”

Scientists must learn to be excellent observers — which is harder than it sounds — in order to make inferences based on what they see. So after participants perform an experiment, Villa and others will lead a discussion about what the kids have observed and what they might deduce from their results.

For the show’s grand finale, Villa and other MagLab educators will perform a science demonstration using vaporous liquid nitrogen, a spectacle that typically elicits plenty of “oohs” and “ahhs” from the audience.

After their mental gymnastics, the kids can take their glow sticks and other MagLab treats home with them. So come join the fun! The lab can accommodate about 60 children and parents, and seats are filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

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.