June 22, 2006
Will dark matter slow down after it goes through a wall? Can it go right through the sun? Wouldn’t dark matter be plasma?The questions were neverending Wednesday night at the Aspen Science Center – the two astrophysicists could scarcely keep up with all the inquiring minds. But it wasn’t their space-studying colleagues or half-asleep college students asking the questions. The median age of this audience was probably 9.The lecture was part of the weekly Physics is for Kids barbecues the science center hosts. Enough kids to fill a classroom – and some equally inquisitive parents – were on hand for the night’s lecture on galaxy formation. Kevin Ward, executive director of the center, said it’s part of the center’s attempt to bring science to young kids.
Ward said science has a stigma – that it’s boring and hard to learn – that kids learn early. But he hopes kids and parents will see that simply isn’t true.”It’s easy, it’s fun, it’s exciting and, it’s fundamental to the human condition,” Ward said. “We’re trying to do cutting-edge science, but make it available to all the Roaring Fork kids.”The kids might come for the free eats, but many wouldn’t stop playing with the educational toys long enough to take a bite, building every geometric shape imaginable.The lectures are short, usually about five to 10 minutes. But the question-and-answer period afterward could probably go on all evening.
And if the younger kids can’t quite get into galaxies just yet, 12-year-old Nathan and 15-year-old Ellen Klein had an explosive demonstration to give. They did four experiments dealing with soda that had the younger crowd ooh-ing and aah-ing.The trick was simple – dropping Mentos candy into Diet Pepsi – but Ellen and Nathan deftly explained the chemical reactions behind the sugary geyser. Both say they want to be scientists – Nathan wants to be a biomedical engineer, while Ellen says she’s been getting into astrophysics and string theory. Ellen added that she’d like to work with particle accelerators, while Nathan said he’d like to develop a medication to ease the allergies he fights.
And although kids like Ellen and Nathan have been coming to the barbecues since they started last year, the picnic also draws in newcomers like 5-year-old Canaan Case, who said between bites of a hamburger that he already really likes science and experiments.Allan Sadun, 11, peppered the guest scientists with questions about dark matter until the lecture drew to a close. It’s part of his thirst for learning that fuels his love of the endless inquiry science allows.”Some things are finite, and you can learn it all,” Allan said. “But it’s boring, because once you figure it out, you can’t figure it out again. There’s always something new to learn [in science] because people are always discovering new things.”The barbecues continue at 5 p.m. every Wednesday on the center’s lawn at Sixth and Gillespie streets. The center also offers summer science camps, which feature five days of experiments for kids in grades 5 to 12. For more information or to sign up, visit http://www.aspensciencecenter.com or call 925-2585.