By Mary O’KEEFE
It wasn’t just about science on Saturday night at Mountain Avenue Elementary School, it was about fun with science.
Students of all ages participated in the Mountain Avenue Science Fair. There were projects that explored the “Flight of the Monarch” to “How to Make Borax Crystals.”
Have you ever wondered if a big marble or a small marble would roll farther? Well, kindergartener Simone Maxwell did. She not only wondered, she conducted an experiment to find the answer.
“[I] used a small [marble] and a big one,” she said.
To her surprise the big marble rolled farthest. Her thesis and findings could be found on a poster board at the science fair. Her brother Cole, 2½ years old, was by her side to show support.
Then there was Arduino Phobos who created a robot that looked like a futuristic bug that had a motion sensor.
“I used Arduino control,” Arduino said.
Arduino is software and hardware that can be used on projects from easy to advanced. The boards can be used to read inputs like light on sensors. That is how Arduino controlled his robot. He put his hand in front of the machine, blocking the light and the robot began to move.
“[Inspiration] came from Curiosity and all of the rovers,” he said.
Curiosity is the Mars Science Laboratory that is presently exploring Mars and managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Arduino, along with other students, were recognized for their efforts with a certificate from Assemblymember Mike Gatto.
Speaking to Arduino one gets the notion that this kid finds great joy in science and engineering. He explained his concepts, experiments and resulting engineering as if he did this for a living. He shared how he plans on expanding his engineering skills in the future…like the next science fair when he will be in fifth grade.
The theme of science is fun continued into classrooms like that of sixth grade teacher Amber Hall. Students were tasked with creating marble mazes but they had themes and were extremely colorful. It wasn’t enough to have them winding through tubes; it had to be fun to watch.
Professional scientists and engineers were also at the school to help bring their level of learning to the students and parents. There was a mini seminar on Mars exploration and the new and present telescopes used by NASA and JPL to explore the galaxy.
Karl Foster, NuSTAR Science Operations Center manager at Caltech, transformed a classroom into a mini planetarium with information on what is new in astronomy. The NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) was launched in 2012 and is the first orbiting telescope to focus light in the high energy x-ray region of the electromagnetic spectrum, according to Caltech.
Foster brought the search into the night sky at the students’ level and, again, made it fun to learn how far-reaching human sight is thanks to these telescopes.
He said students and parents often asked him how big the universe is and can they see to the edge of the universe.
“I explain by telling them to imagine being in the center of a raisin [bread] loaf and put it in the oven. When it expands all you see is the raisins moving away from you but you don’t see the edge of the bread. That’s what it is like [when looking at the universe],” he said.
Environmental science was not overlooked. Future biologists, botanists and geologists were represented by their science presentations. The Rosemont Preserve representatives were there with photos of animals that walk through the area. They also showed the side effects of tectonic plate shifts, namely earthquakes.
And then of course there was the all time favorite scientific experiment – how many kids can a JPL rover roll over at once and how many kids can stay still without giggling while it happens. The answer? A lot of kids and even the most stoic giggled.