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Science comes alive

Dear Editor:

Q: What is as multidimensional, exuberant, and full of imagination as the Exploratorium, Disney World, and EpCot Center’s FutureWorld rolled into one, and lives in a gym and a cafeteria for one day, then disap­pears into the ether, leaving only the faint vapor trails of rubber cement?

A: The Aspen Middle School Science Fair ” a 12-ring circus that includes everything from a cloud chamber trac­ing subatomic particles as they are bent by electromagnetism to an 80-foot climbing rope festooned with intricate pulley systems demonstrating mechani­cal advantage, flanked by students effortlessly hoisting 200-pound adults high into the air.



Brandy Von Weissenstein, Caroline Hanson and their team of dedicated middle school (and high school) sci­ence leaders organized an event that was unbelievably well-designed, well­attended, and brimming over with enthusiastic kids, discovering (some for the first time) the joys of posing an intriguing question and then tracking it down through the mist using scientific inquiry, frequently discovering some­thing entirely unexpected while deep in exploration. It was exhilarating wander­ing through this bright, colorful ecosys­tem of hypotheses, data-graphs, sur­prise conclusions, construction paper and spray-mount. The questions went from the sublime, like “Why do they chill hockey pucks in a bucket of ice before they use them? So they go faster? (hint: NO.) or “What is the optimal tem­perature to extract oil from this shale I got in Rifle?” to the exceedingly practi­cal, like “Which food/liquid cuts the burn of spicy food the most?” (hint: got milk?). There was a spectacular Aspen Mountain Rescue demo (“Extreme Sci­ence – Real Science /Real Rescue”) of mechanical advantage, hauling injured (giggling) climber/student volunteers up cliffs using 9:1 pulley systems (ask Jack Paley to explain how you calculate it ” it makes my head hurt).

As a judge, I was so gratified by the kids’ preparation, effort, execution, and boundless enthusiasm for their person­al experiments. Knowing that most of them started this process with groans and eye rolls makes me appreciate even more the prodigious efforts of the teachers (and the parents) to get them on track and keep them there until the joy of the search took over. So if you bump into any of the team that made this sprawling, inspiring event possible, be sure to congratulate them ” it’s hard enough to herd cats ” to get them to execute and document science experi­ments of the caliber I saw is nothing short of miraculous!




Kevin Ward

President, Aspen Science Center


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