ESCANABA - Students at Webster Elementary learned science can be anything but boring during a presentation Tuesday by the Michigan State University Science Theatre.
MSU Science Theatre groups visited schools in the Escanaba, Gladstone and Rapid River areas Monday and Tuesday. They brought to life for students the concepts of chemistry and physics, along with other applications in engineering and mathematics.
Stephen DeCamp, MSU student and a Gladstone High School graduate, is a member of the MSU Science Theatre team which visited Webster Monday.
Johnathan Gross, left, Manila Ounsombath and Stephen DeCamp show Glenda Schoff’s fifth-grade class at Webster Elementary in Escanaba the effect of liquid nitrogen when it comes into contact with liquid hand soap mixed with water. Michigan State University Science Theatre groups visited local schools Monday and Tuesday, trying to get students more interested in science. (Daily Press photo by Dionna Harris)
DeCamp, along with his fellow MSU students Manila Ounsombath and Johnathan Gross, demonstrated various chemical reactions and applications using liquid nitrogen.
The MSU Science Theatre, according to Tom Abrahmson of the Delta Schoolcraft Intermediate School District, was brought to the area to allow younger students to interact with college students while promoting an interest in science.
"The struggle we see is younger children becoming bored or fearsome of science. This program allows for college students to make connections with students in kindergarten through 12th grade with the shows being formated to show an appreciation for science," said Abrahmson.
At Webster, DeCamp, Ounsombath and Gross interacted with students while explaining the principle behind experiments. Students learned how liquid nitrogen, an extremely cold substance, is used in science and research.
"Liquid nitrogen is used in several research projects, and we are trying to show the students just how cool science can be," said DeCamp.
In demonstrating how liquid nitrogen reacts with water, DeCamp put a small amount of liquid nitrogen into a stainless steel basin of regular tap water. It resulted in a chemical reaction which generated a small amount of fog.
Students in Glenda Schoff's fifth-grade class at Webster also learned how liquid nitrogen can turn an organic compound, such as a banana, into a hammer strong enough to pound a nail into a piece of wood.
"By dipping a banana into the liquid nitrogen, it changes the property of the banana, making it strong enough to pound a nail," said Ounsombath in one of several demonstrations presented Monday.
In another demonstration, Ounsombath showed the students how brittle liquid nitrogen can affect a rose.
She dipped a rose into liquid nitrogen. After only a few minutes, she took the rose and shattered it.
DeCamp, Ounsombath and Gross also showed how a semi-soft, rubber racquetball's properties change when dipped in liquid nitrogen.
Prior to dipping the racquetball into the liquid, DeCamp showed how in its natural state it expends stored energy (bounces). After being dipped in the liquid nitrogen, the natural property of the ball is changed, causing the stored energy to become altered. In this altered state, the ball becomes somewhat fragile, breaking into several pieces when dropped on the floor.
During a question-and-answer period, students learned liquid nitrogen itself is already extremely cold, boiling at -321 degrees F. Only liquid helium is colder.
"When an object is placed into liquid nitrogen, it is already warmer than the liquid," said Gross. "Cold pulls heat toward it, and with so much of the heat being removed from an object, the object itself becomes cold or equal to the temperature of its surroundings."
The students also gave their older counterparts ideas for other experiments, including placing an egg in the nitrogen to see what would happen.
Before concluding their presentation, the students were given a treat of trying marshmallows after they had been placed into the liquid nitrogen.
The nitrogen effectively flash froze the water content in the marshmallows, giving them the same texture and properties as those found in the breakfast cereal Lucky Charms.
One last experiment which captured the attention of students was when DeCamp placed a small amount of liquid nitrogen on the floor.
"The floor is warmer than the liquid nitrogen, so the nitrogen reacts in a manner similar to a drop of water on a hot stove," said DeCamp.
According to DeCamp, when a drop of liquid nitrogen is placed on a surface which is warmer, a small amount of gas or steam forms which the drop "rides" on so it appears to be skimming across the surface.