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ScienceFest loaded with experiments

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By Tris DeRoma

This year’s ScienceFest seemed to have more experiments going on than ever before, much to the delight of parents and their kids.

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On Saturday, the five-day festival’s Discovery Day, thousands flocked to exhibits at Ashley Pond Park, Bradbury Science Museum and Fuller Lodge to see what was happening.

“It’s all hands on, so they can play with all the stuff,” said Jacob Aldersebaes, who was heading to Ashley Pond Park to stop by the large number of booths set up at the park with his son Sebastian, 4, and Sebastian’s friend Felix. “It’s not like a museum where you have to stand behind glass or a rope. Here, they can actually play with it.”

And play they did.

At the Bradbury Science Museum booth, Ada Mjolsness, 7, was hooking wires to a small motor that she powered with a hand crank as mom and dad watched.

“It’s an amazing event. We’re shocked at how many things there are to do,” said Ada’s mother, Lora. “They can actually, touch, feel and experiment. To me that’s the key to getting kids interested in science. It’s about teaching them what an experiment actually is and noting the results of it.”

Ada gave an approving thumbs up. The family was visiting from Irvine, California. Abigail’s dad, Eric, is working on a project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Another young person, Aaron Sullivan, also said he had a good time building circuits at the Bradbury Science Museum booth.

“I got to electrocute myself!” Sullivan said, jokingly, before mom stepped in to say that of course wasn’t true.

“Building the engines is what he liked the best,” Erica Sullivan said. The Sullivans also visited the Bradbury Science Museum booth earlier, where they witnessed atmospheric experiments using a bell jar.

“It’s a free way to entertain the children all day and learn things,” Sullivan said. “He (Aaron) loved building the circuits.”

Tibbar Plasma Technologies created one of the more dramatic experiments.

TPT employees Bill Gibson and John Martin spent the day firing ping-pong balls at empty soda cans at 400 miles an hour using their homemade vacuum cannon made using PVC pipe and a vacuum. The balls traveled so fast because they would suck all the air out of the pipe beforehand, leaving no resistance between the ball and its target when they fired the cannon. This year, they were able to measure the speeds of the ball by mounting sound sensors at either end of the cannon.

“The first acoustic sensor measures the pop of the plastic. Then, the one on the other end registers the ball exploding out the other end. The time in between is the calculation of the average velocity,” Gibson said.

One of the longest lines at Ashley Pond Park was for the contractor who won LANL’s legacy waste cleanup contract. The contractor, N3B, found a clever and tasty way to educate the people on how a water aquifer works through a series of work stations where people could build a layered drink made up of ice, lemon lime soda, sugared cereal, gummy worms and other ingredients.

“What it does is teach children and adults about groundwater, where our water comes from and what aquifers are made out of,” said N3B Water Remediation Manager Frank Johns. As participants wound their way through the stations, scooping “rocks,” “gravel,” “groundwater” and other ingredients into their clear plastic cup for their aquifer, they received an education on how real rocks, gravel and groundwater helped make a successful aquifer.

“We tell them what we’re about and as they go through the stations, we also tell them how an aquifer is built,” Johns said.  

Over on the grounds of Fuller Lodge, some people were busy creating sidewalk art. Artist Jennifer Leon was wrapping up her drawing of a bird flying through space with the Earth below, with DNA strands and microorganisms in the background.

“This is a celebration of science, and I think science tells us so much about the world, from the microscopic, to the macroscopic,” Leon said.