Pop! goes the Sciencepalooza show at Boys Ranch

Children of every age at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch have had a wide array of activities to participate in all summer long. Some are educational activities, and others are just for fun. This week, staff from the Don Harrington Discovery Center in Amarillo, Texas, were at Boys Ranch to present the final of four programs in a summer series of science related programs for the children.

Discovery Center’s distance learning coordinator and outreach educator, Trinity Thornton, showcased “Sciencepalooza,” an hour-long program featuring the zaniest experiments in the Center’s Science Live! collection. She explored a variety of science concepts including nucleation sites, polymers, and the high pressure, low pressure Bernoulli theory.

Thornton opened her presentation by shaking a can of soda pop and pointing it toward the audience. Some held their hands up over their faces, in fear of being soaked. Then, she asked the Boys Ranch children to tell her how they would calm down this ready-to-spew can.

“I’d tap it on the sides all around the can,” said Will, 13.

“No, you need to tap the top of the can!” added Jake, also 13.

Thornton tapped the can around the sides while she talked about nucleation sites and their role in carbonation. She popped the lid and the can released some pressure, but not much.

“Yeah, you need to tap the sides of the can, see how that worked?” Thornton said. “Probably doesn’t hurt to tap the top of the can, too. You guys are good at this!”

Later, Thornton pulled out a bag full of fresh watermelon and proceeded to demonstrate the Eddy Current Guillotine. She showed how a solid copper plate falling near a permanent magnet doesn’t always stop the blade. When induced currents and magnetic fields are repelling the field of the permanent magnet, it drops and chops. Only when the permanent magnet is positioned exactly right will it stop the dropping blade. Several chunks of watermelon met their doom before Thornton got the permanent magnet in the right place to stop the blade. Some of the youngest children in the audience squirmed and laughed as the watermelon was beheaded.

Thornton ended her show by filling hollow eggs with hydrogen and using a flame to make them blow up. She talked briefly about why the Hindenberg airship, which was filled with hydrogen instead of helium, met such a tragic end.

“I thought it was really cool when she popped the eggs,” said Jacob, 13.

Some of the Boys Ranch youth said they would have liked to see her pop something bigger than an egg, something like a balloon filled up big with hydrogen. That would be way too dangerous Thornton told them.

“Do not try this at home,” she said. “Raise your right hands and promise you will not try this at home,” Thornton insisted.

“It was neat when she put those chip wrappers in the microwave and the heat made them totally shrink in size but you could still read the wrapper,” said Jude, 14.

He was referring to a demonstration on how polymers may be stretched out flat like thin paper, but if you apply heat, they shrink down to a spaghetti like form.

The audience was fascinated as Thornton delivered everything from optical illusions to materials science. It was indeed a science adventure in the main gym at Boys Ranch’s Dippel Activity Center!

The Discovery Center has an education program which provides a variety of unique, curriculum-based learning experiences for all ages. The programs are designed to function as an extension of the classroom and engage students in meaningful, experiential-learning opportunities.

Boys Ranch Independent School District is an educational partner to the Discovery Center and, as such, gets some free programming from the center each year. It is used during the summer months as a way to keep the children engaged in science learning while on their school break.

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