Cow eyeballs, hissing cockroaches, vats of slime and steaming ice cream were just a few of the bizarre sights at Caras Park on Friday afternoon, as the University of Montana spectrUM Discovery Center held its fourth annual Weird Science Dance Party.
To celebrate Missoula’s last day of school, the circus of science featured hands-on exhibits engaging participants in logic-defying phenomena. Wide-eyed children squealed in delight, many not realizing the activities were actually tangible representations of fundamental concepts from school.
“Our hope is that they think science is cool,” spectrUM outreach coordinator Hannah Motl said. “It’s not just learning out of textbooks.”
Local children’s band the Whizpops graced the event, as did the traveling zoo Animal Wonders. Arts and crafts were available by purchase and all proceeds went to spectrUM’s Science for All Scholarship Fund.
New to this year’s festivities was the Mind Flex, a booth where participants moved a ball back and forth using only brain power. The telekinesis device acts on “alpha” brain waves, Motl explained, and the secret is concentration.
Some participants eagerly took up the challenge.
“I’m really good at focusing,” said 11-year old Maya Heffernan as she donned the exhibit’s futuristic headgear.
Such cutting-edge additions attract visitors to the event time after time.
“I came here last year,” Heffernan said. “I really liked it, so I decided to come back.”
One of the more popular exhibits involved making ice cream through basic chemistry. Captivated children combined root beer- and vanilla-flavored mixes with liquid nitrogen, concocting a smoky treat as the super-chilled fluid boiled off.
Despite the childish rewards, each presentation taught a specific scientific concept.
Making slime, Motl said, demonstrated the phenomena of non-Newtonian fluids moving in between liquid and solid states. While the Van de Graff generator showed the properties of static electricity by making a participant’s hair stand on end.
Booth operator Zach Mauer said such powerful forces require supervision, however.
“It makes you positive-charged and you could easily pass that along in the form of an electric shock,” Mauer said. “We have to keep kids from reaching toward each other.”
But a slight hint of danger combined with comprehensible results help make the Weird Science Dance Party’s demonstrations all the more popular.
At a gyroscopic turntable where enthusiastic kids smashed weighted disks together, spectrUM lead educator Sadie St. Clair summed up the event best.
“If you talk too much, kids get bored,” she said. “They get excited when things crash into each other.”
Brett Berntsen is a University of Montana journalism student and an intern at the Missoulian. He can be reached at (406) 523-5210 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.