2008 Science Fair Complete

by Terry 3/31/2009 12:06:00 PM

It was a crazy evening. The crowds of children coming and going through the evening never slowed until the tables of displays were taken down. I rotated through experiments continuously for two and a half hours without a break. On the whole, I would say the evening was a success from my point of view. There are things I will do differently next time. For a first-time attempt at ‘demonstration science’, I am pleased.

I had help from my wife, Karen, making my display table – something I am terrible with and generally loath. Karen made sure what I had looked good and said what I felt was needed. In retrospect, the only thing I would add would be more information on who I am and why I was at the fair. Thank you, Karen!

I had able help from my daughter, Kaitlin, who attends the elementary school where the fair was held. A few of her friends thought that our booth was a ‘science project’ submitted by Kaitlin for the fair and felt bad when she did not ‘win’. Of course we were there for other reasons and not part of any judging, so Kaitlin was not bothered and her friends laughed it off after it was explained to them.

My other assistant for the evening, Elizabeth, is a middle-school and martial-arts student with a deep interest in forensic science. She was invaluable during the science fair and she worked well with Kaitlin. If I ever When I get my act together, I hope to have her and Kaitlin be the nucleus of my Science Club. The only thing holding me back is scheduling. I need to figure out how to test my hypothesis that the hours in a day and days in a week shorten as a person ages…

Lessons Learned

Having now done it, I have a much better idea of what does and does not work for demonstration. At least where there are large, youthful crowds.

  • Kids like seeing the apparatus used in demos
  • Kids like hands-on experiments (not a surprise)
  • Kids like action
    • Big change over a relatively short time keep kids attention in the large crowds
  • Have more information on who I am and why I am at the fair
    • Parents like to know who their kids are talking to
    • It helps to address the common questions that can distract
  • Do Not Forget Your Notebook
    • Yes, I forgot my notebook. I ended up doing every experiment from memory
    • Practicing every experiment over the two weeks prior to the fair helped overcome my error

One demonstration which worked very well for the conditions, and was able to cycle through repeatedly, was boiling water in a partial vacuum. I used a 1000 ml Florence Flask with stopper and 750 ml of water, my propane stove, ring stand, a bit of sand and a tub of cold water for the demo. I boiled the water, with a pinch of sand for boiling chips, in the flask on the ring stand. While waiting for the water to boil, I made a few jokes. Science requires patience and we know a watch pot never boils… When the water reached a rolling boil, I removed the heat source and quickly capped the flask.

As the flask cools, it continues to boil. Carefully placing the flask in the tub of cool water causes the water to boil more vigorously for several minutes. When the flask cools enough, the kids around the table can touch the flask, play with it in the tub and see how the temperature of the glass around the air-pocket could be manipulated to cool or warm the trapped air and affect the rate of boil.

Finally, when boiling was almost done, I removed the stopper and showed how the water had cooled to a safe-to-handle temperature.

The display is quick to setup and repeat. I was able to put this display aside and come back to it for a different crowed of kids as the evening moved on.

I used the Detonation of Nitrogen Triiodide, suggested by the folks at HMS-Beagle, for a demo. This was cool on many levels. The early-arrivals to the fair watched us make and prepare the apparatus and chemicals for the display (the ammonia smell both attracted and repelled the kids). The final detonation at evenings end worked perfectly.

As I mentioned, I forgot my notebook with my demonstration cheat-sheet. This was a mistake and the results are predictable. A couple experiments I tried from memory where slightly in error, but I used that as a talking point, so it was not a complete loss.

Slime works. The only issue with slime was assembly. I could not make the stuff fast enough. I will work on that for the future. Also several parents and kids wanted the recipe. I will make sure I have handouts for next year. This was also a great activity for Kaitlin to do and be able to interact directly with her classmates.

Helpful Resources

Robert Bruce Thompson has been an inspiration with his book and Home Chem Lab forum. The Home Chem Lab forum has been indispensable. The suggestions from many threads allowed me to find a good footing and make my efforts a success.

HMS-Beagle helped me get the equipment and chemicals I needed in short order and made several good demonstration recommendations.

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About Terry Losansky

Terry Dee Losansky

I am a software architect, actively practice and teach martial arts and live in Snoqualmie, Washington. I have an amazing daughter who is the jewel of my life.

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