Science Club Kids Embark on a Physics Adventure

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Kids extract rubber balls from liquid nitrogen to test how temperature affects bounce. Bethany Hubbard/SCIENCE IN SOCIETY

Last week 20 Science Club kids boarded a bus to Northwestern University for a physics adventure. Donning lab goggles and gloves, the kids uncovered the unusual properties of different materials at extremely low temperatures.

Dr. Jens Koch, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics & Astronomy, and a team of graduate students led the kids through interactive experiments and demonstrations.

“I think my biggest goal is to just get them excited about science as something that is not just weird and nerdy,” said Koch, who helped organize the trip with Science in Society in part to fulfill the broader impacts support requirement of his National Science Foundation grant. The NSF requirement aims to get scientists out of the lab and into the community.

“The purpose is really to get scientists to think about how their work impacts society and to share all that information with people,” said Rebecca Daugherty, assistant director of Science in Society. The field trip was the second outreach event Daugherty and SiS Director Michael Kennedy helped Koch organize.

Koch viewed the field trip as an opportunity to learn how to work with children, and hoped to inspire a younger generation, especially women, to consider careers in physics.

“There’s definitely a big need for physics to catch up on the ratio between male and female students,” he said. “Other fields have done a really great job at accomplishing that, and we’re still far behind. I think it’s something that has to start very, very early on when kids form their opinion on what they might be good at and what they could be capable of. So, I really hope events like this will contribute a little to that.”

The kids also got to visit Dr. Bill Halperin’s Low Temperature Physics Group lab, where graduate student Bill Gannon demonstrated the magnetic properties of liquid oxygen, and how pressure affects liquid nitrogen.

“I think the thing that we hope the kids will get out of the trip is that science is not just your teacher, who you may or may not like very much, writing on the blackboard,” Gannon said. “Science is something that’s happening all the time and it’s fun and it’s not just something that’s abstract.”

Science Club is a Science in Society initiative that partners Northwestern science graduate students with urban middle school youth at the Robert R. McCormick Boys & Girls Club in an after-school mentorship program. The kids are guided through 10-week science curriculums each quarter, where they do exciting, authentic, hands-on laboratory activities. The field trips are an opportunity for them to see the science they’ve learned in action.

“The reason we take them on these field trips is because we want to expose them to the setting where science actually happens,” Daugherty said. “It really is piquing their curiosity, exposing them to something that they probably haven’t thought about before, and getting them to see themselves in that kind of environment - saying maybe this is a possibility for me.”

Check out photos from the field trip on our Facebook page! 

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