Science

Missoula's spectrUM gives kids explosive lesson in science

2012-12-28T19:45:00Z 2013-01-03T17:08:16Z Missoula's spectrUM gives kids explosive lesson in scienceBy MARTIN KIDSTON of the Missoulian missoulian.com
December 28, 2012 7:45 pm  • 

A handful of budding scientists gathered Friday for a day rich in chemical reactions, rockets, explosions and efforts to isolate copper through electrolysis.

Of course, the questions came fast and furious.

“What’s electrolysis?”

“When are we going to blow up something?”

“When are we going to wear goggles?”

Ages 7 to 11, the students attended the winter break camp at the spectrUM Discovery Area on the University of Montana campus, where they explored the fundamental world of nano technology as it relates to chemistry.

Sharp as tacks, they fired off answers to complex questions, never mind their age.

When asked to name the difference between a physical and chemical reaction, 11-year-old Clair Parsons had the answer.

“A physical reaction you can reverse,” she said. “A chemical reaction is permanent.”

When asked what four changes constitute a chemical reaction, the students had ready answers, naming the formation of gas, changes in temperature and color, and the formation of another substance.

“What’s the scientific term for the formation of another substance?” asked educator Andrea Buchanan.

“Metamorphosis,” answered one 8-year-old student.

“Close, but not quite,” said UM student and educator Lindsay Jones.

“Precipitate,” tried 9-year-old Rachel Suter, who was nearly correct.

The spectrUM Discovery Area serves as an interactive science museum located at UM.

The center opened in 2007 and offers all things science, from activities and demonstrations to exhibits and educational camps.

On Friday, while mixing baking soda with vinegar, or potassium iodide and lead nitrate, the students stood surrounded by posters proclaiming the amazing world of nanotechnology.

“When kids are out of school, we want to give them a place to come to learn how fun science is,” said Buchanan. “They can do hands-on science and see there are lots of professions in science, and they can grow up to be scientists.”

The students already have a jump on their future. When asked to write down what they knew about chemistry, the answers held hopeful details.

Chemistry consisted of elements, they agreed. They also knew that a periodic table of those elements existed in the world. They had seen it before.

“What I know about chemistry is there’s a periodic table of elements and a combination of elements makes a new thing,” said Parsons. “Like H20, because it has two hydrogen (atoms) and one oxygen (atom).”

Her answer was enthusiastic, and correct.

“Our basic goal is to get kids and the public interested and to show them how hands-on and accessible science can be,” said Buchanan. “It’s not just some far-off thing.”

To find out more about the spectrUM Discovery Area, call (406) 243-4828, or email spectrum@mso.umt.edu.

Reporter Martin Kidston can be reached at 523-5260, martin.kidston@missoulian.com or @martinkidston.

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