Thick fog wafted out of the cauldron where a green mixture was being stirred by a hand in a giant glove. My 5 year-old waived to me to lean down and whispered, “It’s Magic!”
“No,” I whispered back, “it’s way cooler than Magic. It’s Science!”
We were watching a student of Drexel University’s College of Engineering creating ice cream using liquid nitrogen as coolant. This experiment was just one of dozens of activities at the “Materials Science and Engineering Day” at the Bossone Research Enterprise Center.
For the 4th time Drexel University’s College of Engineering had opened its door to the public (next year’s event is planned for 2/7/15). This year the Academy of Natural Sciences joined the event, showing how nature can inspire the development of new materials.
Interested adults and older children could participate in academic demos, talks and short classes. For the younger ones there were plenty of hands-on (and sometimes feet-on) experiments, such as measuring your body height in nanometers, seeing how the technology of a touch screen works, or making your own liquid crystal thermometer. And just in case this was not yet exciting enough, Grand Hank provided a Materials Science show set to Hip Hop tunes.
Staff also opened up their laboratories and let the public have a close look into the everyday workspace of real scientists and the equipment they work with. The electron microscopes and CT scanner gave the phrase “science up close” a whole new meaning, when zooming in on the inner structures of feathers and flies.
On the second floor the university showed a few things that even the best museum would be hard-pressed to cover – showcases of dozens of current research projects, presented by the enthusiastic researchers themselves. Among those a new way to “sniff” out chemical substances using graphene (a single layer of carbon atoms), that could retire dogs looking for explosives. Or experiments to determine the best environmental conditions for a species of algae to produce oil as an alternative energy source.
If you did not leave excited about material sciences and engineering, you surely must have been dead. Or immune to the Magic of Science.