“It’s not magic,” another young voice replies. “It’s physics.”
Assistant professor of physics and astronomy Jennifer Weinberg-Wolf said that awe factor is exactly the result she had hoped for.
Weinberg-Wolf created this first Science is Awesome Outreach Day with the help of a grant from The Stirling Foundation. The event hosted over 300 fourth-grade students from Carrboro Elementary School, Frank Porter Graham Bilingüe School and Northside Elementary School. These are all Title I schools — institutions in which 28 percent or more of the student body receives free or reduced lunch, meaning their families have an income below the federal poverty line.
The students rotated through three different STEM-based activities: a demonstration show which focused on concepts included in the N.C. third and fourth grade curriculum, a hands-on activity where current UNC students helped the children make a Rube Goldberg machine and a “reverse science fair.”
“Instead of the kids making a presentation for adults to judge, we’re having University researchers explain their own current research to the kids, and they’ll vote on who explained it the best,” Weinberg-Wolf said. “But they’re not dumbing it down at all, they’re just talking about the science in a different way.”
She said that this provided an opportunity for the students to see what scientists actually do for a living. Topics ranged from snot to radioactivity to aliens, making for a heated competition between presenters.
Because of the high poverty rate in the three participating schools, there is also a high likelihood that these students may become first-generation college students when they went on to a university. The aim of Science is Awesome Outreach Day was to encourage these children to get excited about STEM and to show that a future in science is possible for them.
After the activities, the students gathered on McCorkle Place for lunch and liquid nitrogen ice cream before heading back to their elementary schools.
“It’s been incredible to see everyone so willing to get involved — undergraduates, grad students, faculty, the University, the school district,” Weinberg-Wolf said. “It’s not necessarily about having the kids leave here knowing all the facts, it’s about having them leave with excitement and inspiration.”