Edwardsburg Intermediate School students cut out sticky catchers during “Air Junk.” They examined particles plucked from the air, such as golden retriever hair, under a microscope.

Archived Story

Hands-on science pops at SMC

Published 12:19pm Thursday, March 8, 2012

Michigan State University Science Theater’s “ooh-” and “ahh”-inducing presenters, zoology major Anna Reh-Gingerich and chemistry major Colin Davis, both from Buchanan, concocted “elephant’s toothpaste” at the 19th annual elementary Science Olympiad Day Tuesday at Southwestern Michigan College.
Cassopolis fourth-grader Gage Collins named it as his favorite part of a busy day.
Their visual stunts make science pop for some 180 young scientists tapping their creative and critical thinking skills while exploring scientifically-based activities coordinated by Lewis Cass Intermediate School District.
Pop unless it’s a balloon with a Vaseline-coated stake piercing its orange hide.
Another polymer exercise pops with a blow torch melting the side of a milk jug so it can be inflated like a balloon.
Polymers are chains of molecules, like trains. By varying the numbers of “cars,” they exhibit different properties.
Anna and Colin, donning white lab coats and goggles, make elephant’s toothpaste with hydrogen peroxide, kept in a brown paper bag because it reacts to light exposure. Mix in some Joy dish soap and food coloring and a plume of bluish cotton candy foam spews from the beaker.
In another catalyst exhibition, Gummi Bears are immolated.
Sodium chlorate is a strong oxidizer. It wants to release oxygen in the form of flames fueled by sugar in the burning candy.
Catalysts speed reactions by lowering necessary energy, such as a tunnel through a hill could make it easier for a bicyclist who didn’t need to pedal over it.
Dimming lights, Anna and Colin soak a sheet in isopropyl alcohol mixed with water. It burns fast, but water can absorb a lot of energy and acts to shield the sheet.
For their finale, Colin “naps” on a bed of nails blanketed by more spikes topped with a cinderblock as Anna awakens him with a sledgehammer.
In the morning, teachers planned and designed experiments in which students participated with assistance from Brian Wood, LCISD instructional services director.
Generally designed as hands-on team events, activities revolved around life science, earth science and physical/chemical science.
MSU Science Theater presentations in the theater of the Dale A. Lyons Building alternated with a pizza lunch at Mathews Conference Center.
Dowagiac teacher Steve Veldman, for example, taught astronomy, with tables of five matching wits with NASA about moon survival.
Tom Caskey, exhibit designer for The Museum at Southwestern Michigan College, taught students about magnets, which Cassopolis fourth-grader Satchel Sears enjoyed the most.

Editor's Picks