By Mike Gregory
A touring Science World show gave budding chemists and physicists at Chemainus Elemantary an exciting opportunity to see a schoolmate drift across the gymnasium floor on a makeshift hovercraft, and even learn how a baby diaper stops leaks.
The Vancouver-based not-for-profit centre has made it a goal to visit every school in the province over the coming three years and last week attended schools from Salt Spring Island to Chemainus, on Friday.
“It’s just not logistically possible for a school to take 400 kids on two, three, however many ferries to go to Vancouver but we can obviously bring the science to them and we always bring our best demos,” said presenter Nicola Grice, who holds a PhD in chemistry and has worked at Science World since 2004.
The young minds were barely able to contain their excitement during the 45 minute lesson as Grice and colleague Stefano Giulianetti asked students to hypothesize the outcome of experiments the likes of which could be re-created at home.
One of the first demonstrations involved Grade 1 student Myleigh Morey learning about how slush powder absorbs 800 times its own mass, in this case water, as she attempted to empty a cup over Giulianetti’s head.
Later after the show, even teachers and administrators marvelled in the halls at the consistency of the gelatinous substance, which is the science behind most baby diapers on the market.
Principal Brenda Stevenson said the opportunity to have Science World visit the school couldn’t be passed up.
“It’s about bringing the stuff from textbooks to life,” she said. “Whenever we have the opportunity to provide children with hands-on learning opportunities, watching science in action, we take them up on it.”
Other experiments that were part of the demonstration included showing the children how a vacuum pump and chamber push air in objects such as balloons, marshmallows and shaving cream.
“At the end of the day it’s about innovation and inspiring the kids,” Grice said.
For the big finale after Grice pulled out a leaf blower and exclaimed they were going to float a lucky student across the gym on a DIY hovercraft.
The student volunteer, gripping the board tight but happy to be along for the ride, drifted around for 30 seconds before the blower was turned off.
Still, as the children roared, he sat motionless, legs crossed, wearing protective goggles and ear muffs, uncertain whether the ride was over.
“If we get a kid leaving here and the only thing they remember from this is that hovercraft – I’ve done my job,” Grice said.
“We’re just trying to get them to think and get excited about science.”