Science at the library

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Boston museum visits town

By Lisa Tetrault-Zhe

Hampton Union, Tuesday, August 2, 2011

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Karen Powers, an educator with the Museum of Science, Boston, demonstrates the properties of liquid nitrogen to a group of children at Lane Library. The program is part of the library’s summer reading series.
[Lisa Tetrault-Zhe photo]

HAMPTON -- Imagine cracking a balloon into tiny pieces. Not popping, but actually cracking it like a broken bottle.

Nearly 150 children and their parents witnessed just that and many other wonders of science courtesy of the Boston Museum of Science program held Wednesday morning at Lane Library. The program is part of the summer reading series, "One World, Many Stories."

Karen Powers, an educator with the museum, dropped an inflated balloon into a vat of liquid nitrogen at minus-320 degrees Fahrenheit.

"It's what we call a 'glass transition,'" Powers explained to the children and their parents. "It doesn't actually become glass, but it behaves like glass, sounds like glass when you tap it on the table. If I were to warm it back up in a glass of warm water, it goes back to being stretchy."

Powers also "froze" a piece of rubber tubing, in order to demonstrate that the tubing was flexible before she put it in the liquid nitrogen, but unyielding afterwards. And she froze a black ceramic disk to demonstrate how the temperature change altered its ability to be magnetic.

Normally, a magnet would be attracted to the disk, Powers explained, but dropping the disk into the liquid nitrogen changed the temperature. When the magnet was placed on top, it floated there.

"It looks like magic, but it's not," Powers said. "It begins to mimic the magnetic fields of the magnet. It doesn't matter if it's the north or south end of the magnet, the ceramic will mimic it and repel it. Same as if you put two north ends of a magnet together."

The frozen balloon trick was most impressive, according to many of the kids in attendance.

"I liked seeing the frozen balloon and learning about gasses," said 5-year-old Hannah Abasciano of Hampton.

Martha McDonald, 10, and her 4-year-old brother, Jack, echoed that sentiment.

"I liked the balloons the best, especially the part when it exploded," said Martha, who summers in Hampton with her family.

According to children's librarian Paulina Shadowens, inviting the museum to participate in her summer reading program most years is an easy decision.

"They have a great variety of programs available, and we always try to sample different ones," Shadowens said. "The patron response to this program is very strong. And they have a lot of great information presented that school-age children can grasp. They make science accessible."

And the experience isn't only educational for the children — Shadowens said she thinks a lot of the parents come away with knowledge as well.

"I love these programs," said parent Valerie Abasciano. "It's an opportunity for the kids to see things they'd normally never get to see. I loved the Squam Lakes presentation a few weeks ago, too. They brought along a porcupine that meowed like a kitten. I never knew they did that."

Powers said her favorite part of her job is being able to get out in the different communities and share her knowledge of science. She travels to schools and libraries as part of the museum's education program.

"This was a great introduction to science for the children," Shadowens said. "It makes it accessible for those who aren't able to get into Boston to visit the museum."

The final program in the summer reading series, singer Steve Blunt, will be held at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 3. Participants are encouraged to sign up at the library as seating is limited.

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