Seven-year-old Chelsea Hemsworth was one of a dozen children queued up at a science table at Marbles Kids Museum Sunday afternoon to see kitchen chemistry in action.
Scientist Summer Cortinas, an outreach coordinator with N.C. BioNetwork, an outfit associated with the state’s community college system, guided Hemsworth through a milk polarity experiment, using food coloring to show what happens when dish soap interacts with the fat in whole milk.
A plastic petri dish filled whole milk sat on the table in front of Hemsworth, who was visiting her grandparents from Maryland. The girl added drops of food coloring to the milk and then dabbed a cotton swab that had been dipped in Dawn dish soap into the milk.
The food coloring swirled and rippled in the milk as the soap chased the milk’s fat molecules around the petri dish. Hemsworth was mesmerized: “I want to do it again.”
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Sunday’s science programming is part of Marbles Kids Museum’s guest-star scientists series. Toddlers and elementary-school children crowded around Cortinas’ tables to view salt and sugar crystals under a microscope and to learn how to make their own gummy worms by mixing a seaweed extract with calcium chloride.
“This is an opportunity for us to have an expert come out and bring their toys and do it in a really cool way,” explained Alex Laube, the museum’s STEM program leader. (STEM stands for the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.)
If you make science engaging for children, Laube reasoned, they may consider scientific careers.
“If you make science fun,” Laube said, “they may be willing to do the hard work later in life to become scientists and make the world a better place.”
Laube’s hopes for the museum’s young visitors are a long way off but he wasn’t the only adult voicing a similar vision.
“We would love them to become scientists,” said Kathryn Wolf, referring to her two daughters, Chloe, 7, and Phoebe, 4, who had just jostled each other to peer into the microscope. Wolf said she and her husband, Jeff, have been impressed with the number of science activities offered for children in the Triangle since they moved from Miami to Durham three years ago.
Aware that there is a disparity between boys and girls when it comes to pursuing STEM studies and careers, Wolf said she and her husband seek out opportunities to encourage their daughters’ interest in science. They signed up to have monthly science experiment kits sent to their home and the family often ventures out to local museums for science activities.
“If there is anything structured like this,” Kathryn Wolf said,” we’re there.”
Rachael Clayton of Raleigh brought her two sons, Seth, 7, and Rory, 4, but it was clear Seth was the budding scientist. In fact, he recently won a mad scientist award at school, his mother explained.
As Seth was glued to the table, squishing green and red gummy worms in his hands, his mother said, “He’s totally in his element.”