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In Science Circus, Students Learn What’s the Matter – and How it Changes Form

Liberty Science Center STEM Program Developer Dayna Mancuso

With balloons, a soda can and something called a Van de Graaff Generator, an educator from the Liberty Science Center taught students in the Columbus and Nelson Mandela/Dr. Hosea Zollicoffer schools about the states of matter, and how they behave. Along the way, they found answers to questions such as this puzzler from the educator, STEM Program Developer Dayna Mancuso: If the air around us exerts pressure – 15 pounds for every square inch of us – “Why are we not being squished right now?”

She presented the questions, land answers, in online “Science Circus” class recently as part of the District’s six-week summer program.

“How do we know that matter interacts even when the particles that are too small to be seen?” the Liberty Science Center instructor asked near the beginning. Throughout the one-hour class, she demonstrated the answer with experiments that showed the results of removing electrons from atoms, changing matter from liquid to gas and more.

She was aided by Kengo Yamada, Associate Director, Early Childhood Education Programs.

Mancuso rubbed her head with a balloon to pull some of the electrons from her hair, then showed how the balloon, now teaming with added electrons, pulled at the soda can on a table, attracting the protons in the metal. The Van de Graaff Generator created tiny flashes of lightning as electrons jumped between two metal spheres. In another experiment, Mancuso compressed three balloons into a container that seemed too small for even one of them and that was already filled with super cold liquid nitrogen.

The balloons emerged in pancake shape, the air inside them compacted by the cold, but they quickly expanded to their previous size when they warmed in the room-temperature air.

Students participated by typing answers to questions in the chat function. As for how we avoid being crushed, students made several guesses that were all part of the answer – bones, blood cells, organs, tissue. Air, too, Mancuso added. The things that make up a human body push back on the air pressing on us so that we reach – to use a word Mancuso taught them – “equilibrium.”

“We’re balanced with the surrounding air pressure,” she said. “Our body is balanced because we were made to live in this environment.”