Fermilab event aims to expose children to science

Fermilab event aims to expose children to science
Fermilab event aims to expose children to science
nSara Fetzer, 13, of Aurora, likes science, but her parents, Debbie and Chad, say their daughter’s interest doesn’t swing toward anything mainstream such as chemistry or physics.

“Our daughter likes creating slime,” Debbie Fetzer said. “I don’t know what it is, but she’s always making these slimy concoctions.” 

Slime wasn’t on the program, but families looking for an educational way to spend time together on a winter’s afternoon found the opportunity Sunday in Batavia at Fermilab’s annual Family Open House.

The event was expected to draw 2,000 to 2,500 visitors, but snowy conditions and bad weather kept many away. Those who came were allowed to experience science in a hands-on way. 

Students from more than a half-dozen high schools, from Rockford and Downers Grove to Aurora and Naperville, participated in a “physics carnival,” where visitors could check out interactive exhibits. Other presentations Sunday included the program, “Physics and Engineering of Sports” and a panel on women i n science.

The annual auditorium show this year was titled “Colder than Cool,” where Fermilab’s scientists showed off the chilling effects of liquid nitrogen and its uses with electricity and magnetism.

Phoebe Covey, 17, from Downers Grove North High School, worked with other students in the physics carnival to offer a static electricity exhibit where kids could see how many balloons they could get to stick to their head. Sara Fetzer managed to get 10 to stick.

“Our physics teacher at school offered us the chance to do this, and I’ve not been here before,” Covey explained. “I’m actually more interested in becoming a writer or an artist when I get older, but I have to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my science class this year.”

Organizers also included an opportunity to connect guests to ongoing scientific experiments throughout the world. The “Live from CERN” exhibit allowed students to ask questions of scientists at Fermilab and in Geneva, Switzerland, who are working with a general purpose particle physics detector.

Andre Salles, a spokesman for Fermilab, said the goal of the open house each year is to provide more public exposure to the lab, “as well as encourage the development of future scientists.”

“We want kids to be exposed to science at a young age and begin to look at this as a career,” Salles said. “We want to continue to create learning through exposure and the wonder of science, and hope this is something that stays with them.”

Physics teacher Marianna Ruggerio, from Rockford Auburn, said her senior students, “who all plan to be science majors next year in college,” offered two exhibits in the physics carnival, including a sound wave experiment with tuning forks and also an exhibit showing periodic motion.

“We have three sorts of pendulums, including a swing, a spring that goes up and down like a bungee cord, and a torsional pendulum that works like a tire swing,” Ruggerio explained. “We’re showing how various factors do and don’t affect the back-and-forth movements, given the mass, and lengths and shapes.”

Families included grandparents like Richard Odwazny, of Clarendon Hills, who brought his grandson Richard Peterson, 12, of Riverside, to the open house.

“My grandson enjoys science, and this is his first time here,” Odwazny said. “I’ve taken him to the Museum of Science and Industry, but we like going to Argonne National Laboratory too — it’s a lot closer.” Peterson said despite his young age, he already enjoys physics and chemistry, and also thinks “gravity and space are cool.”

“I might possibly go into science as a career, but I still have time to think about it,” he said. “Still, I’m glad I’m here and think this place is pretty cool.”

Amy and Matt Coneys of Naperville brought their two daughters Emma, 8, and Maggie, 4, for their first visit to the science center. Amy Coneys said she found out about the open house online and that thought it would be a nice family activity.

Matt Coneys said he was “a big fan of science” and wanted his daughters exposed to it at an early age.

“This is a great experience for them and, frankly, I’m having as much fun learning about things here as my kids are,” he said. “To me, the more science they are exposed to, the better.”

“Our daughter likes creating slime,” Debbie Fetzer said. “I don’t know what it is, but she’s always making these slimy…

  Sisters Addy and Elise Wheeler, ages 9 and 7, of West Chicago experiment with a Newton’s Cradle during the annual Fermilab open house on Sunday. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  Naperville sisters Maggie and Emma Coneys, ages 4 and 8, race the ball around the gravity accelerator Sunday during the annual Fermilab open house. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  Aras Kaufmann, 13, of Lisle tries on a pair of virtual reality glasses Sunday at the annual Fermilab open house. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  Trevor Keppel, 7, of Wheaton experiments with sound waves by placing a tuning fork in a glass of water Sunday during the annual Fermilab open house. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

By offering a day of educational presentations, tours and hands-on activities, organizers of Fermilab’s annual open house hope to provide families with more than a fun opportunity to learn about science. They also want to make the community aware of the functions and significance of the Batavia laboratory.

Sunday’s event offered access to various experiments and areas of the 10-square-mile campus that aren’t always available to the public, said Lori Haseltine, education program assistant. Visitors were able to see a herd of bison, a Pioneer cemetery, a linear accelerator and an experiment involving a 50-foot magnet brought in recently from New York.

They also could go on a virtual tour of a Compact Muon Solenoid experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

“We’re outreaching to the community to let them know what goes on at Fermilab and what’s available for the public,” Haseltine said. The event typically draws at least 2,500 people, she said, though crowds were lighter than usual thanks to a snowy morning.

The weather didn’t stop Amy and Matt Coneys from making the trek from Naperville with their daughters, 8-year-old Emma and 4-year-old Maggie. The girls said they most enjoyed a virtual reality exhibit that allows visitors to watch neutrinos and their interactions with other molecules.

“All the experiments have been great and (are) just getting them interested in gravity or sound waves, or getting them really excited about science,” Amy Coneys said. “It’s been a lot of fun for them.”

New to this year’s event was a “Colder than Cool” show, during which scientists demonstrated the effects of liquid nitrogen and its uses in electricity and magnetism. The open house also featured a presentation about sports physics and engineering, as well as a panel of women discussing their careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Additionally, Wilson Hall’s atrium was filled with interactive exhibits displayed by students from various high schools, including West Aurora, Naperville Central, Downers Grove North and the Islamic Foundation School in Villa Park. Students from Batavia High School and the Illinois Math and Science Academy also volunteered at the event.

Vincent Pergrossi, 16, of Hampshire, was among the IMSA students helping families try hands-on physics activities. He and his classmates said they enjoyed watching kids make predictions about an experiment and then work through the outcome.

“It’s interesting to see their initial reactions,” he said. “A lot of them don’t really know exactly what’s going to happen, so they each have their own guesses, but they’re all able — with a little bit of guidance — to figure out what happens.”

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