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Students, faculty have a blast at UAF Science Potpourri

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Posted: Saturday, April 14, 2012 11:34 pm | Updated: 1:50 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Science bubbled, steamed, splashed, shook and exploded inside and outside the Reichardt Building at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Saturday.

It was the annual Science Potpourri of the College of Natural Science and Mathematics. Hundreds of people came to learn about science the fun way.

Cathy Cahill, associate professor of chemistry, led a demonstration of how exciting chemistry can be. She started by getting people’s attention with loud noises.

She blew a balloon full of the air from her lungs and held a flame to it. It popped with a sound most people are used to from birthday parties and other celebrations.

Next, she had a balloon full of pure oxygen, which she and others in the auditorium room knew was more flammable than normal air. People hoped there would be a burst of flame from the balloon. It still only popped, but a little louder than the first.

“So we didn’t see much did we? Can I do better?” Cahill asked the room.

The kids responded with a resounding “yes!”

“You’re right I can do better — I’m a chemist,” she said.

A fiery blast from a balloon full of hydrogen shocked the crowd into applause. A balloon full of both hydrogen and oxygen created a louder and more impressive explosion.

Saturday’s event was the result of volunteer effort, according to college Dean Paul Layer.

Graduate and undergraduate students and faculty members volunteer “to show that science is really fun, it’s an adventure, it’s getting dirty, it’s just learning about things,” Layer said. “It’s been a really good effort — good turnout — for us this year again, and it works because of our students and our faculty volunteers.”

Each department, including physics, geology, biology, marine science, chemistry and engineering, had displays and demonstrations of fun science.

Kids could see live marine creatures, create geological crystals using gum drops, create slime, watch erupting volcanoes and feel earth quakes all in a matter of hours.

“It’s one of the things I really love doing at the university,” Cahill said. “The kids get so excited about it, and it’s so much fun to blow it up and get them excited about science.”

Contact staff writer Reba Lean at 459-7523.

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