Mad Science for kids

Program promotes interest in chemistry, physics
Jul. 18, 2014 @ 07:07 PM

OXFORD — The sounds and images of science enlivened Harris Hall of the Granville County History Museum.

Linh Pham, known as “Memory,” and Katie Matchunis, in her role as “Dr. Molly Cule,” created smoke, bubbles and gooey slime to the fascinated eyes of 50 children and 20 adults.

Pham and Matchunis brought their program of hands-on science from Mad Science of the Research Triangle.

“What happens when you mix baking soda and vinegar?” Pham said.

To help the children answer the question, she added vinegar to a soda-loaded film canister and quickly put on the top. With a pop, the topped shot off away from the audience.

“Did it pop because of fire?” Pham said.

“No,” came the response.

She explained that carbon dioxide was produced by the mixture and expanded rapidly, making the film canister act like a chemical rocket.

“Is this an indoor or an outdoor activity?” Pham said.

“Outdoor!” the children said.

After the experiment in chemistry, Pham demonstrated some principles of physics. She placed a cup of water on a paper plate and swung it in a circle by attached strings. The cup of water stayed in its place on the plate during the swing. Pham explained centrifugal force was holding the cup of water in place.

“What is the force that makes the cup want to fall?” she said.

The children responded, “Gravity.”

Pham explained that the centrifugal force generated by swinging the plate was strong enough to overcome the force of gravity.

Pham used a large net stretched between two poles to make bubbles by dipping the net in soapy water and swinging the net through the air. Then, to make what she called alien bubbles, she added an unnamed ingredient and repeated the process. This time the bubbles were much bigger.

For the hands-on part of the program, the children were divided into two groups, with Pham leading one and Matchunis the other.

“I’m going to walk you guys through the process of digestion,” Matchunis said.

One child was assigned the role of the teeth and used a ceramic tooth to grind up a food mixture in a bowl. Another child poured in an equivalent to saliva, which Matchunis explained contained enzymes to break up the food. A third child added something to approximate stomach acid to continue the process.

The children also made alien toothpaste by making a mixture that oozed out of the container onto a pan.

Jackson Preddy, a rising second-grader at Kerr-Vance Academy, said he liked the alien bubbles best. But he also showed some earthly skepticism as he added, “It was supposed to be alien, but it wasn’t.”

Among the lessons, he learned from the program dealt with the nature of science.

“She showed us a magic trick,” he said. “We learned the difference between magic and science.”

Jackson’s mother, Vickie Preddy, a teacher at Mount Energy Elementary School, said because he has participated in programs like this, he is more interested in science now.

Latasha Harris accompanied the children from Cornerstone Christian Daycare. One of those children, Rayna Williams, a fourth-grader at Haw River Elementary School, also liked the alien bubbles. But her scientific interests lie in another direction.

“I want to be an animal biologist,” she said.

Harris, who is a teacher assistant at West Oxford Elementary School, expressed her appreciation for the program, saying, “This is really good for the kids.”

Matchunis said she was impressed with the children.

“They always know way more than I expect them to,” she said.

She said the purpose of Mad Science is to get young people more interested in science.

Mad Science in the Research Triangle is a franchise of an international program. Through after-school, preschool and summer programs, workshops and special events it serves more than 6 million children in 25 countries.

Museum Director Pam Thornton said donated funds and grants were used to bring the program to Oxford.

“We’re not like the library,” she said. “We don’t get any county money.”

A second Mad Science program will be offered at the museum on Thursday between 10 a.m. and noon.

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.