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No Explosions at Family Science Days
SAN FRANCISCO--Anybody who has seen the "MythBusters" television show on the Discovery Channel knows that Hollywood special effects experts Jamie Savage and Adam Hyneman regularly work with explosions, electricity, guns, power tools, and Buster, an abused crash test dummy, to assess the validity of popular myths and rumors.
But instead of painting rooms using bombs and reenacting the Hindenburg accident at Family Science Days at the 2007 AAAS Annual Meeting in San Francisco, the MythBusters chose to engage children in a rapid-fire question and answer session about their favorite myths, most surprising discoveries, and close calls on the job.
While nothing exploded at Family Science Days, the Subaru and Science Channel co-sponsored event featured more than 40 activities and booths to engage about 2,200 children, parents, and educators in the wonders of science through hands-on activities, demonstrations, crafts, and animals.
Among the most popular live stage shows was a program on the science of yo-yos led by Bob Hirshon, executive producer of Kinetic City, an online portal of games teaching kids about science. Co-sponsored by Yomega, the event engaged children in exploring the science behind the "Yomega Brain," a classic yo-yo with a centrifugal clutch system that opens to allow super long spins and then closes to force an automatic return.
"We brought over 425 yo-yos to San Francisco and we are all out," said Rich Fukutaki, a consultant that has worked with Hirshon and Kinetic City for more than six years. "I have come to several previous Family Science Days, and this is the best one I have seen. We have never had this much traffic."
Hirshon, executive producer and host of Science Update, AAAS's popular daily radio show, was amazed at how many people attended Family Science Days.
"Look, its 3:30 on a Sunday, and the gallery is packed," said Hirshon. "This is great, all of the kids are asking good questions--luckily I am able to answer them."
One of the event's most popular exhibits was designed by the California Academy of Sciences featuring interactive games, small mammal skulls, and one attention-seeking boa constrictor.
Katie Nocan, 9, asked the young woman holding the snake the most popular, and perhaps, the most important question.
"Does the snake bite?"
"No it doesn't," the young woman responded. "It's more interested in staying warm on my sweatshirt and it is used to being touched."
"Oh, it's soft," Katie responded. "Daddy, you touch it."
"Mmmm, not this time," laughed her dad, Chris, who later hesitantly rubbed it.
"Do you want to pet the snake?" the young woman asked another terrified boy.
"No," he said.
"Ok then, do you want to play a fun game?" she asked.
No response. Perhaps he thought it involved the snake.
While walking through the exhibit hall, one could see children smiling, hear parents laughing, talking in a variety of languages--and the occasional heart-stopping pop of a balloon. The University of Idaho exhibit wafted through the hall.
The University of Idaho designed an exhibit about its biodiesel program including several students, a popcorn machine, and a lime-green Volkswagen purchased by the program in 2002 that runs exclusively on canola oil biodiesel. The vehicle gets 54 miles per gallon.
The development team includes engineers, biologists, geneticists, and public information officers, are they're working to promote their research and provide biodeisel outreach education with a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.
Bill Loftus, a writer with the University of Idaho, said that there are several required steps to go from a seed to oil suitable for biodeisel: growing the plant, getting the oil, turning into biodeisel, and getting the car to use it.
"The work is pretty important and exciting and has taken some members of the team around the country engaging kids and adults," said Loftus, as some children ran a remote controlled mini lime-green biodeisel Volkswagen into the trash can beside him.
Another exhibit, by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, featured a demonstration on the Bernoulli Effect, a concept that states that the faster air travels, the lower pressure it exerts.
The hands-on demonstration challenged children to blow up a 10-foot blue bag with just one breath. After first seeming befuddled, then playing tug-of-war, then nearly fainting trying to blow harder and harder into the bag, a young NCAR educator suggested that the young boy blow slower.
"Wow!, I had no idea I had that much breath," said Luca Van Der Meer. His father was equally impressed.
As the events were winding down, a small crowd developed around the Carnegie Mellon Women @ School of Computer Science Outreach Roadshow, specifically, around a video of robotic dogs playing soccer, and around Billinda.
Billinda, a Sony AIBO (Artificial Intelligence roBOt) that's normally used to teach computer programming to undergraduate students at Carnegie Mellon, was demonstrating how engineers can control the actions of a machine. With cameras in its blinking eyes, speakers as ears, and sensory pads in its paws, Billinda is accustomed to getting a lot of attention.
"Can we see if it is awake now?" asked Rose Kassil. Laughing, her mother suggested that sleeping, in tech-speak, means charging.
"We've been here for 15 minutes," her mother said. "Now she won't leave."
20 February 2007