The program had three different stations set up throughout the two buildings. Kids could watch live demonstrations of mechanics and electricity, build their own models to try to move an object across a table without touching the ground and had an opportunity to see UNC professors present their research and vote on it in a “reverse science fair.”
Astronomy professor Nicholas Law gave a presentation on the search for alien life on other planets. Much like some of the kids, Law said he’s been interested in astronomy since before he could remember. For him, there wasn’t much work to do in making his research fourth-grade appropriate.
“I think the concepts that we’re talking about are actually not that complicated; there’s no esoteric math involved,” Law said. “We’re talking about concepts [the kids are] exposed to in science fiction, that they see around them all of the time and are automatically interested in. It’s just a pleasure to be able to bring that research to them.”
Law’s research in particular was a hit with the young children. His audience of nearly 100 students in a lecture room in Chapman Hall was constantly filled with raised hands, kids constantly trying to learn more about the possibility of aliens.
Chris Esparza Rabago is a student at Northside Elementary. He said his favorite part of the day was sitting in Law’s lecture.
“Definitely learning that there are other creatures in space, and how there’s other planets and how every single star has a planet and all those kinds of things,” Rabago said.
Over in Phillips Hall, a more physical activity was taking place, as members of the physics department set up different demonstrations involving mechanical and electrical concepts. In one, a can with water was heated above a burner before being plunged into ice water, causing the can to crumple from changing pressures. In another, a tube had its air vacuumed before a wall was suddenly popped, causing a loud bang.
“It’s pretty obvious from talking to them, they already know some physics concepts,” Stefan Jeglinski, an assistant teaching professor and one of the volunteers running the demonstrations, said. “We asked them about the difference between metal and plastic, and they knew that the metal was a conductor … a lot of them were pretty savvy about what to expect.”
Like Law, Jeglinski didn’t have to do much to make his presentation fourth grade-accessible. He said most of the demonstrations were the same ones he would show students at UNC, just the college students had to focus more on why an outcome happened.
“I think the earlier they can do this, the better,” Jeglinski said. “Ours is a technological world, and it’s going to get more technological, not less technological. People are going to need science and an understanding of science really at an earlier and earlier age.”