Saturday, March 20, 2004

Science Night

Last night my campus had its annual science night open house; 3,000 local elementary school kids and their parents were invited to attend for free. Most of our science faculty donated their time and opened up their labs, including our chemists, marine biologists, anatomists, geologists, microbiologist, astronomer, and physicists. There were a few paths set up to guide people around the campus, and while many of the labs were filled with static displays of specimens or other interesting materials, some had demonstrations going continuously through the night. I didn't get a chance to wander around, but my SO did and reported that the industrial tech people had participants building paper airplanes to fly off their balcony, the marine science people had a "touch the wildlife" tank full of intertidal critters, and the chemists had a ton of demos including a non-Newtonian fluid, burning metals, odoriferous chemicals, and a bottle containing iodine crystals and gas that was labeled "Iodine: how sublime" (ugh).

My displays consisted primarily of various skulls, skeletons, and preserved birds, though I threw in some invertebrates for the fun of it. To draw people into the room I positioned our horse and saber-toothed tiger skulls so they looked out the door, with horse limbs not far behind. While this tactic worked on many, some kids looked in and then promptly ran away. I had some student helpers, and at least a few hundred people worked their way through the lab during the evening.

The most enjoyable aspect was how excited the kids and parents were at seeing the various items; almost everything I had out was real (not casts or models), and that impressed most of the visitors. There were countless "wow"s and "cool"s to be heard the entire evening, and many parents thanked me (and our other faculty) for having the campus open. The funniest event of the night was a woman who picked up a dried centipede and then said to her kids, "Look, this is what bit Daddy in Hawaii!"

Here are a few pictures from the evening:

Last night was what teaching is all about – sharing some of what I know with the people around me, and it was invigorating to see such joy at the things I use every semester.

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