Event promotes science for children

by Nancy Hedlund

Claire Juliber, 9, spent Saturday afternoon making cereal, touching slime and watching an interactive telecast.
The third grader summed up her full day in one word — “cool.”
Juliber was one of 400 children and parents who attended ScienceFest, held at James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History. The crowd, which included area Boy and Girl Scouts and school children, tried their hand at monitoring their heartbeats, operating a robot and solving crimes.
The event was part of the JASON Project, an international program aimed at promoting science to kids.
“The hope of ScienceFest is to get children interested in science at an early age,” said Director of Distance Learning Amy Theisen, who also was a coordinator of the event.
Members of organizations such as Honeywell, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, General Mills, Medtronic and University groups displayed hands-on exhibits in their fields of expertise.
An interactive broadcast that featured Dr. Robert Ballard, the discoverer of the Titanic, took place in the museum’s theater. There, children had the chance to ask people from around the world questions about science.
General College Assistant Professor Elaine Richardson brought her three children to the science fair. She said she is trying to get her daughters interested in science. “It lets them see that science is fun and cool.”
Her daughter, 12-year-old Evelyn Richardson, said she learned that “a lot of people are scientists, not just white people. Even African-Americans and other people of color.”
A representative from the University of Minnesota Raptor Center, Michelle Anderson, attended the fair. She spent the day showing children some of the birds at the center. “Casey’s new job is education,” Anderson said as she held a falcon.
Members of the American Chemical Society taught kids how to make slime — a fun concoction made of laundry detergent and polyvinyl alcohol.
Graduate student in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science Dan Hooks said it was fun to work with kids. “It’s a change of pace from what I’m used to doing.”
Valerie Cervenka, a forensic entomologist who taught at the event, said she “believes in promotion of science to kids — the earlier the better.”
Cervenka said the use of insects and insect evidence associated with human remains helps determine the time of death of an animal or person. Cervenka displayed insects in different stages of development.
Other professionals at the event agreed with Cervenka.
“Science will go nowhere if kids don’t take an interest in it,” said Devora Molitor, member of the Minnesota Microscopy Society.
The Microscopy Society, working with the University’s Imaging Center, displayed microscopes and samples for kids to examine.
General Mills representatives also demonstrated cereal- and paper-making to kids. “In addition to teaching them a concept, it’s exposing them to careers,” said Marsha Thompson, senior research scientist at the company.
Rita Esterl, a Girl Scout leader from Savage, Minn., brought her troop back after attending last year. “The best part of the ScienceFest is that people take that much time to show kids about science,” she said.