By Caroline Gordon
On a breezy April Saturday, more than 350 curious children and their parents flooded the area behind O’Connor Hall to learn about science.
The annual event, known as Science on State Street, is hosted by the Christa McAuliffe Center in collaboration with the MetroWest STEM Education Network (MSEN).
The event took place on April 30 between noon and 3 p.m. and featured booths and tables staffed by FSU STEM professors, science students, and community members.
According to Irene Porro, director of the McAuliffe Center, 15 “exhibitors’” science projects were displayed, such as robots shooting hoops, how to make a battery from household items, and an exhibit of bugs found in Massachusetts.
Tony Ghelfi, who works for FrankenS.T.E.A.M, an organization that hosts after-school STEM activities, attended the event with a few robots that were programmed to perform tasks including shooting balls into mini-basketball hoops and traveling across colorful paths.
Ghelfi said he purchased the robots, but assembled the paths on which they moved.
He added the robots are operated by apps such as Blocky, a programming software, on the iPads the spectators used to control them.
Dr. Dwayne Bell, a professor in the Chemistry and Food Science Department at FSU, created a battery with home supplies.
Bell cut a large battery in half, removed the paper that keeps the manganese oxide from touching the metal coating, and explained that batteries operate on electrons that “give up electricity.”
Then, he emptied the manganese oxide into a terracotta pot, added some water, lead from a pencil, and wires with metal clips that were clasped onto the pot and connected to a voltage calculator.
Each time Bell clasped the metal clips to the pot, the pin on the voltage calculator would move, indicating an increase in battery power.
As the pin jolted across the monitor, Bell laughed and said jokingly to his audience, “When doing science experiments, it’s always important to do an evil laugh - mwah ha ha ha ha!”
Matthew Savini-Burke, a senior biology student at FSU, came prepared with boxes of deceased bugs, including bees, butterflies, and beetles from across the state.
Savini-Burke said, “I want to show everyone that bugs are not scary - they are important, and they don’t want to hurt you. They are more afraid of you than you are of them.”
They added, “It’s been a fifty-fifty split between people loving the bugs and people being afraid of them. But, nature is so cool!”
Porro explained the origin of Science on State Street, noting she first organized the event in 2015.
“The response we had from the MetroWest audience was great and we knew we had to keep offering this annual appointment to engage families and learners of all ages with science,” she said.
Porro added, “The festival is also a friendly way to give back - to invite members of the community to campus. It is a way to give back to the community.”
She noted that last year, due to the pandemic, Science on State Street was held virtually. Speakers from across the country were able to join and “engage audiences in conversation around science and anything that connects to science.”
Porro said, “There is something for everyone at Science on State Street. Families were happy because both children and parents were entertained - we hope the children and parents learned something new!”
Marilyn Machuca and Heather Keith, STEM students at MassBay, hosted a paper chromatography booth. Chromatography is the separation of a mixture by passing it in a solution through a medium in which the components move at different rates. Some procedures are separated by color, molecular weight, and polarity.
At their booth, they presented a leaf stain that had been dipped in petroleum ether acetone. With the end of the leaf submerged into the liquid, the pigments rose up to the top of the paper.
Keith explained that as some liquids traveled down the leaf, some pigments stopped and others ran down the leaf, based on their polarity.
She added leaves such as kale and spinach are ideal for the project and that she wanted to demonstrate the experiment with leaves to “show the pigments that are necessary for photosynthesis.”
Keith said she previously conducted the experiment in a class, but with pens, which inspired her to demonstrate the project to others.
The Green Initiative Club hosted a booth in collaboration with Megan Mayer, a nutrition and health studies professor, offering a sustainability wheel trivia game and Annie’s snacks.
Isabella Ferretti, a senior nutrition and health studies major, said, “My interest is in food policy and making sustainable food items, which motivated me to join the club and participate in Science on State Street.”
The Massachusetts State Police Museum & Learning Center hosted a “magic print” booth with invisible ink that participants could press their thumb into. Then, participants pressed their thumbs on a sheet of paper that revealed their fingerprints.
In addition to the fingerprint demonstration, a police car was parked next to the booth. State Trooper John Kelleher explained how the technology inside the car works.
Jen Whitman, director of the Massachusetts State Police Museum & Learning Center, said,“The purpose of this booth is to show kids that fingerprints are all different - nobody has one like yourself.”
She added, “The kids are fascinated to learn that their fingerprints are unique. It’s nice to see the curiosity come alive.”