‘Xplore’ activities show fun (and delicious) side of MSE

‘Xplore’ activities show fun (and delicious) side of MSE

eXtraordinary Materials

“Whoooooa, that’s so cool!”

“Can I touch it? Can I touch it?”

“Is my ice cream warm enough to eat now?”

On June 22 and 23, the Van Vlack Lab was bustling with kids aged 8-13 participating in hands-on materials science activities during the college’s annual Xplore Engineering event, which this year drew hundreds of alumni families to campus. Xplore Engineering is designed for alumni and the children in their life entering the 4th-7th grade. Through a series of experiential workshops, participants get hands-on experience in a variety of engineering disciplines.

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The MSE workshop, called eXtraordinary Materials and led by Dr. Tim Chambers, included three interactive activities, starting with “Microscopy of Unknown Materials,” where everyday materials like styrofoam, cloth, and salt were hidden inside optical microscopes. Students made observations and collaborated with others in an effort to determine what each material was.

With the second activity, “The Iron Wire,” students saw a simple piece of wire expand when heated, bounce when red-hot, and shrink suddenly at 1660 degrees Fahrenheit. “It was an exciting way to show students that even with their own eyes they can see the effects of changes at the atomic level,” Chambers said.

The third (and definitely the sweetest) activity of the workshop was “Cryogenic Ice Cream,” where Chambers made maize and blue ice cream using liquid nitrogen. Freezing droplets of ice cream mix by dripping them into a tray of liquid nitrogen, he created frozen spheres and bubbles of ice cream that students then got to sample (after it warmed up).

“Overall, I tried to pick activities that would show that the world of Materials Science & Engineering can be delicious, fun, educational, and exciting all at the same time,” Chambers said.

Clearly his goal was achieved as evidenced by one father, who, as he was walking out the door after Thursday’s morning session, stopped and told Chambers, “I think you just lit something in my son’s brain. He’s never thought about this stuff before, so thank you.”