Sciences reach out to local students to spark interest in STEM

Madison Weaver, Assistant News Editor

Students from McCall Middle School in Montoursville, Pa. visited the University on April 4 for a morning of scientific exploration with professors and students, where they participated in experiments and toured the University’s labs and greenhouse.

The students from McCall’s gifted program ranged from fifth to eighth grade and were accompanied by teachers Patty Confer and Chris Reeder, who hoped to further instill an interest in science in the young students.

University Laboratory Director of Chemistry Pat Martino, Visiting Assistant Professor of Chemistry Maria Panteva, Lab Director of General Analytical Chemistry Neluni Perera, and Anna Schmoll ’17 assisted students with experiments.

“I like to take them on field trips to expose them to different things that they don’t always get to do in the regular classes,” Confer said. “A lot of these kids are into different areas of science, so I said ‘Let’s do it!’”

The students were broken up into two groups by grade level and participated in mini-lab experiments geared toward their age. For younger students, experiments included creating a Coca Cola and Mentos geyser, mixing cornstarch and water, attempting to poke skewers through balloons, and exploring density of soft drinks.

“I liked making the bag full of water then poking pencils through it,” fifth grader Josh Wentzler said.

Seventh and eighth grade students made slime, learned about hot packs and cold packs as well as surface tension, and trapped the gas from baking soda and vinegar, a staple of the traditional volcano experiment, into a balloon.

“I really liked seeing the salt experiment,” seventh grader Lanie Mussina said. “We took different kinds of salt and dissolved them in water and then measured the temperature of the water.”

“They had a blast, especially with cornstarch and water when they were allowed to make a mess,” Martino said. “Lots of cool, different experiments, and they loved it.”

Professor of Chemistry Timothy Strein gave the students a tour of the chemistry labs and introduced them to various instruments, and Associate Professor of Biology Mark Spiro showed the students around the greenhouse.

The morning wound down with Martino and Reeder making ice cream by stirring liquid nitrogen, milk, vanilla, and sugar in a large bowl that overflowed with nitrogen gas and excited the students. When asked about their favorite part of the day, many students shouted out making slime, seeing the greenhouse, poking balloons with pencils, and of course, making liquid nitrogen ice cream.

“The kids were so fun and it was awesome to see how excited they were about the science projects! I really hope that we continue to do programs like this in the future to help encourage more engagement with the local community,” Schmoll said.

Other science outreach events include the University’s annual chemistry camp for high school students hosted in July, as well as the Halloween chemistry show in October. Next spring, Martino hopes to plan a show and activity day at a local middle school to spark more student interest in science.

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