On Saturday, Feb. 2, student volunteers from Penn and Drexel will come together for a growing annual tradition: Philly Materials Science and Engineering Day.
The free event, being held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Drexel’s Bossone Research Center, aims to show children of all ages that learning about science can be fun, and to educate the general public about a field of research that is rapidly growing in importance.
Philly Materials Day traces its roots to 2011, when members of Drexel’s College of Engineering collaborated with Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, the Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter, and the Nano-Bio Interface Center on an event designed to showcase their common ground and entice the next generation of material scientists.
The program attracted more than 1,000 participants and proved to be a powerful outreach tool.
“We all felt strongly that it was a very important event because it really connected with the kids,” says Peter Davies, chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, “so we vowed there and then to do it every year.”
Visitors can expect a variety of hands-on demonstrations and presentations, all conducted by college student volunteers.
One perennial favorite is a giant vat of “oobleck,” a gooey mixture of cornstarch and water that, in much smaller quantities, is a mainstay of kitchen-counter experiments. Taking a step into the vat will result in sinking like quicksand, but if they’re quick, kids and adults can run across the surface.
Volunteers will be on hand to explain what makes this possible: oobleck is what is known as a non-Newtonian fluid, a class of material that is of interest to researchers because its flow properties change in response to stress. The hard footfalls that go along with running actually make the oobleck thicker and more like a solid surface.
Beyond the fun that goes along with performing demonstrations with names like “Slime” and “Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream,” Davies says the college student volunteers benefit greatly from the event, gaining experience communicating their research to non-scientists. For the programs’ many international students, Materials Day gives them an opportunity to interact with American families from all walks of life.
Davies also believes that younger visitors can more easily connect with people closer to their own age, especially when they have a passion for what they do.
“The whole idea is to really convey the excitement of the field,” Davies says.
Originally published on January 31, 2013