By Christian Rosario / Editor-In-Chief
One way to introduce the exciting possibilities of science to children is have them learn of it from experience. Rather than through abstract thoughts and concepts, children best understand the scientific world by immersing themselves in it first-hand. By providing lab coats and goggles and engaging them in interactive stations, Raritan Valley Community College’s Bio/Chem Club collaborated with Empower Family Success Center of Somerset County to inspire potential future scientists at the Little Scientist Family Fun Night on February 20 in RVCC’s cafeteria.
At the event, volunteers from the Bio/Chem Club, Rotaract and Empower managed six stations with different scientific experiments, explaining the scientific processes behind each one. They also provided parents with general information about RVCC to help them continue their education, information about RVCC's daycare services and information about how to obtain funding for daycare.
Although a career in science is well paying, American businesses are still in need of workers properly educated in science and are hoping future generations can fill those positions. During his 2012 State of the Union Address, President Barrack Obama said, “I also hear from many business leaders who want to hire in the United States but can’t find workers with the right skills. Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job.” The need for scientists will only grow in the next six years. Research by Georgetown University’s Center and Education predicts that of the 55 million jobs that are expected to grow between 2010 and 2020, 26 percent will be for science, technology, engineering and math.
A child who witnesses first-hand the possibilities of science is more likely to consider pursuing it as a career than one who is not. Because children are naturally curious and are intrigued by the same questions that hands-on scientific research answers, experiments at the Little Scietist Family Fun Night focused on taking items children see every day and creating unusual things out of them.
The first station children saw upon walking into the event was the “Hand Washing Station”, which tested the amount of germs they had on their hands. Volunteers asked children to put lotion on their hands and then wash them as best as they could. The children then placed their hands in a box. Volunteers shined an ultra-violet flashlight on their hands, revealing how well they washed them. Some children were initially skeptical, believing that there weren’t any germs, but were amazed and surprised by the results. Another experiment at the station also tested for germs. Volunteers put powder on their hands, shook the children’s hands, and then asked the children to put their hands inside of the box.
At the “Goo Gaks” station, children created stretchy putty that they took home. This was done by mixing half water and half Elmer’s glue, then adding watered down borax into the solution .Volunteers explained that the putty is a long strand of molecules known as a polymer and borax is the compound responsible for hooking the glue’s molecules together to form the material. The Bio/Chem club performed a similar experiment last year at the MLK Youth Center in Bridgewater.
The “Bouncy Balls” station had children mix half Elmer’s glue and half corn starch. They then added watered down borax and rolled the solution together. Bio/Chem Club advisor Sarah Imbriglio came up with the idea for this experiment.
The “Candy Acidity” station had children test the acidity of various candies, placing a candy of their chose in a cup of hot water and then adding baking soda. Candies with a lot of acidity bubbled, and candies with no acidity did not. Sonia Bhala, vice president of the Bio/Chem Club, came up with the idea at the Bio/Chem Club Halloween experiment last fall.
Volunteers at the “Rainbow Milk” station asked children to place a drop of soap into a plate of half and half and food coloring, creating a rainbow swirl effect. Volunteers explained that the soap caused the fat molecules in the milk to separate and spread the food coloring. Chris Russo, president of RVCC’s Phi Thetta Kappa, came up with the idea.
The “Corn Starch and Water” station had children place their hands in a solution that when pressed on softly was hard but when dug into was soft.
The club also displayed three demonstrations. During the first experiment, Bio/Chem club member Vinny Balduci placed Mentos into a bottle of Coke. The coating in the Mentos caused carbon dioxide in the soda to release, creating an eruption. They performed this experiment previously at club meetings and at the MLK Youth Center.
Volunteers at the “Elephant Toothpaste” experiment placed hydrogen peroxide and food coloring into an empty 16 ounce soda bottle. They then added liquid dish soap and swished it inside the bottle. In a separate small cup, they combined the warm water and yeast together and mixed them for 30 seconds. They poured the yeast water mixture into the bottle and watched as foam erupted out. The yeast removed the oxygen from the hydrogen peroxide, creating oxygen bubbles and heat that caused the bottle to become hot.
Volunteers at the “Dry Ice” experiment blew bubbles through a straw over dry ice, which hovered and grew. Imbriglio and Dr. Paul Schueler, a chemistry professor at RVCC, came up with the idea. The next experiment, “Gun Cotton”, had volunteers explode cotton by placing a piece of the cotton on a coat hanger and touching it with a hot glass stirring rod. After the explosion, the cotton turned into gas and left no ash behind. This was done by soaking the cotton in an acid solution, which turned specific molecular sites into explosives. The demonstration deals with the conversion, storage and release of energy.
David Zheng, one of the child participants at the Little Scientist Family Fun Night, said the “Goo Gaks” was his favorite station. He also said the event increased his interest in science and he would like to do it again.
The idea for the Little Scientist Family Fun Night originated when Casey Randazzo, Community Partnership and Volunteer Coordinator at Empower, asked at a Student Government Association general assembly meeting if any of the student clubs and organizations were interested in working with Empower. Sonia Bhala then approached Casey with the idea of holding a science fair for the children
This is the first time the Bio/Chem Club has worked with Empower. They are planning similar events for the Martin Luther King Youth Center on March 17 and the Matheny Developmental Center in Peapack, NJ later this year.