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Science and storytelling intertwine in Westwood

By Laura Drinan
Hometown Weekly Reporter

ScienceTellers makes learning about science more engaging and enjoyable by pairing scientific demonstrations with a riveting story. Westwood Public Library hosted a Science Tellers event on Monday, July 31, during which children from ages four to eight participated in experiments and a listened to the tale of two children, Grace and Roger, who stepped aboard a pirate ship and embarked on a wild journey filled with mutiny, mysteries, and surprises.

Two volunteers help bring the ScienceTellers pirate story to life by mixing manganese dioxide and hydrogen peroxide to create a fountain of water vapors. Photos by Laura Drinan

Two volunteers help bring the ScienceTellers pirate story to life by mixing manganese dioxide and hydrogen peroxide to create a fountain of water vapors. Photos by Laura Drinan

ScienceTeller Stephanie set sail with the first part of the story, introducing the protagonists, Grace and Roger, and moved on to the science demonstration after telling the audience in a hushed voice that Grace and Roger disappeared into the fog. To bring the story to life, Stephanie asked for two volunteers as they used a bicycle pump and an empty two-liter bottle to make fog. “When water vapor cools down, that’s how we get clouds in the sky,” explained Stephanie.

To produce clouds inside of the plastic bottle, the two volunteers each grabbed a pair of safety goggles and helped their ScienceTeller to pump air into the bottle, which increased the pressure and the temperature inside of the old soda bottle. Once the latch of the bicycle pump was released, the pressure and temperature instantly dropped, creating a white, opaque fog inside of the bottle, drawing gasps and cheers from the audience.

As the story continued, the children learned about the captain of the pirate ship, who dropped his mug of grog. When the liquid spilled out onto the floor, it burned a hole right through the planks of wood, revealing that it was actually poison.

The audience knew it was time for another demonstration and two volunteers helped Stephanie pour acetone into a Styrofoam cup to melt a hole through it. Later, Stephanie did another demonstration requiring six volunteers, as she held a leaf blower to their backs, making the volunteers’ hair and clothes fly and flap around wildly. “Sometimes we make unexpected discoveries in science,” said Stephanie. “And today, we discovered that these ladies look awesome with very big, 1980s hair.” Experimenting with the leaf blower even more, Stephanie sent sheets of toilet paper flying into the air like a kite. The volunteers jumped and leaped to grab pieces of it, tangling themselves in a huge mess of toilet paper until the roll ran out.

One volunteer feels the cold cloud inside a plastic soda bottle after they produced fog using a two-liter bottle, a bicycle pump, and a bit of water. Photos by Laura Drinan

One volunteer feels the cold cloud inside a plastic soda bottle after they produced fog using a two-liter bottle, a bicycle pump, and a bit of water. Photos by Laura Drinan

Although the children were eager to do more demonstrations, the story of Grace and Roger was not yet over. The hole in the ship for the poison left the crew stranded on an island. To help, Grace and Roger sent smoke signals, which was also demonstrated by Stephanie and two volunteers. Explaining that manganese dioxide is a catalyst that breaks down hydrogen peroxide, Stephanie and the volunteers sent water vapors shooting out of the cylinder by combining the materials. As the story came to a climax with Grace and Roger aiming a lit cannon at the man trying to kill the captain, Stephanie did an advanced demonstration to create visible electricity using a Tesla coil to show what the firing of the cannon looked like.

In the grand finale, to demonstrate the ocean waves as Grace, Roger, and the crew used wooden rafts to trek to the mainland, Stephanie used a tube filled with carbon dioxide and water to send a fountain of water shooting into the air and at the audience.

With lots of smiles and applause, Stephanie took a bow for her performance and passed out postcards from ScienceTellers with directions for an experiment to be done at home. Although the science behind some of the demonstrations may have been a bit too advanced for some of the kids, ScienceTellers encouraged an enjoyment and fascination in science and provided the children with an entertaining story to remember.

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