Having fun with science

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By Jennifer Garcia

Researchers, educators, innovators, businesses and artisans from Los Alamos and the surrounding areas shared their hands-on activities and ideas with the crowd at the Next Big Idea Festival near Ashley Pond on Saturday.

Children and adults alike gathered around tents that featured a myriad of scientific experiments. While some were reminiscent of school science experiments, others were more complicated.

The experiments ranged from lava lamps made from vegetable oil, water and food coloring to a hydrogen-powered rocket and a variety of others.

The Next Big Idea Festival of Discovery, Invention and Innovation took place from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., but onlookers gathered at the pond shortly after 10 a.m. and began milling around.

One of the exhibitors, G. Dana Brabson, hailed from the University of New Mexico’s chemistry department.

This year was Brabson’s first time at the event and he brought with him a variety of experiments ranging from a hydrogen rocket, a fuel cell, an experiment controlled by the Internet via cell phone connection and a few ideas for kids to try at home.

“The idea is to get kids excited about science and technology,” Brabson said, “so you use noise, smoke and fire. An experiment is worth a thousand pictures.”

Brabson, with the help of an onlooker, launched his hydrogen rocket into the air with a terrific popping sound, much to the delight of those watching.

He also demonstrated how much energy it takes to burn a gram of sugar. In addition, he placed a can of Diet Coke and a can of regular Coke into a large beaker full of water and asked onlookers which one would float.

After the demonstration, it was revealed that the Diet Coke floated while the regular Coke sunk to the bottom. Brabson said the reason the regular Coke sunk is because of the amount of sugar in the fizzy drink.

Representatives from New Mexico State University did a demonstration with soil that kids were also able to participate in as well. One activity included putting different dyes through soil to see what changed and what didn’t.

They also tested how much carbon is held in certain soils based on their reaction with vinegar, a weak acid that dissolves calcium carbonate. Onlookers also got the opportunity to feel and see soil of different textures and colors and how they might affect the environment, gardens and buildings.

Bernadette Lauritzen of Assets in Action also ran an exhibit, testing the sink-or-float theory, using various objects immersed in a fish tank of water. Items such as metal, plastic, wood, aluminum foils, toy blocks and many others were used.

Much like the experiment run by Babson, Lauritzen tested the floating ability of a regular Coke versus a Diet Coke. She also tested sugar-free Red Bull against regular Red Bull.

“After a few of these experiments kids figure the sugar-free or diet drinks are the ones that will float,” Lauritzen said, “but that’s not true with Red Bull. They both float.”

In addition to the hands-on activities, one venue, the Next Big Show, featured two immersive visualization domes running simultaneous entertainment and educational programs throughout the day.

While the educational shows covered topics from nanotechnology to space explorations, the entertainment show integrated music with visual effects that were both creative and immersive.

A grilling competition was also held at the pond from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Both amateur and professional grill masters attempted to impress the judges with their seasonings and creativity with charcoal.

The festival is a production of Los Alamos MainStreet and is sponsored by Los Alamos County, Los Alamos National Security, LLC and Los Alamos National Bank.