Day of science is shocking experience for Bellingham students

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 26, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - Peals of laughter and shouts of surprise erupted in the gym at Sunnyland Elementary School Friday, April 25, as a girl's hair lifted straight up to form a fuzzy halo around her head.

Fourth-grader Alanis Bucklin had felt static electricity before, but never so much as when she stood in front of her classmates and placed her hand on a Van de Graaff electrostatic generator as part of the Pacific Science Center's traveling Physics on Wheels show.

"It was awesome," Alanis said of feeling the electricity course through the big silver ball. "My favorite subject at school other than art is science. It's really interesting. When we're beginning to do an experiment with something and I don't know the answer, I'm filled with curiosity."

It's that curiosity that educators hope to foster with the center's Science on Wheels program, which brings interactive lessons about geology, anatomy, space, engineering and physics to schools throughout the state.

"It's such an opportunity to influence opinions and ideas and just get them excited about science," said Sam Chamberlain, an education outreach lead teacher for the Pacific Science Center. "There are a lot of future jobs in science and math. The more we can get our kids into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, the more they can fill the jobs that are available now."

The Physics on Wheels visit started with an assembly that gave the kids a taste of how exciting physics could be: liquid nitrogen, sparks and static. Science center teachers then went to different classes throughout the day to teach lessons about magnets, light and sound, and the gym was filled with hands-on exhibits that students could play with throughout the day. Kids crowded around parabolic mirrors and special lenses, cracking up at the distorted images. They played with magnets and plasma spheres and were mesmerized by a Bernoulli funnel that levitated a pingpong ball.

At the assembly, the kids loved when Alanis' hair stood up, watching sparks come from the Van de Graaff generator and seeing liquid nitrogen freeze rubber gloves and blow the lids off of canisters.

"It's really interesting," third-grader Rhys Pullar said. "I want to learn lots more stuff. Why is it doing this stuff and how does it do it?"

Fourth-graders Tim Hammack and Benjamin Latta described the show as awesome and spectacular.

"It made me look at science like, wow," Benjamin said. "What else is in science?"

Reach Zoe Fraley at 360-756-2803 or zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com.

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