The green ball dropped to the ground with a “POP” and promptly shattered.
“Eek!” shrieked one of the girls from Payson High School (PHS) in surprise.
Normally, the green handball would bounce, but senior Arizona State University (ASU) student Jinkyu Kim had dipped the ball into liquid nitrogen, freezing it to a glass-like state. When the normally bouncy ball hit the floor tile, all it could do was shatter.
“I’m sure you’ve seen this before, but it’s still pretty cool,” said Kim.
Kim guessed right, most of the students who went on the field trip organized by PHS chemistry teacher Meena Rustagi had seen what liquid nitrogen can do to an object because they either take Advanced Placement science classes or have an aptitude for the subject.
“I wanted to give my kids exposure to what’s available,” said Rustagi of the adventure to the LeRoy Eyring Center for Solid State Science at ASU.
Kim’s demonstration was part of the center’s outreach program.
Dubbed “Science is Fun,” the program, funded by the National Science Foundation, introduces engineering, chemistry, materials science and physics to students from kindergarten through high school. (For information see http://le-csss.asu.edu /scienceisfun).
“We’ve done the program for the last 15 years,” said Roxanne Montaya, program director. “The majority of our outreach is done at the local schools. We see about 7,000 to 10,000 kids each year.”
The programs for the younger students use graduate students to go out into the Phoenix area schools to put on presentations of scientific concepts.
In contrast, Rustagi brought 25 PHS science students to the ASU campus to see the university’s electron microscope, vacuum lab, Ion Beam Analysis, Tandetron Ion Accelerator and bio-medical demonstrations.
“I found out about this program a couple of months ago,” said Rustagi as the bus trundled down Highway 87 to Tempe.
Rustagi believes that exposing students to what is possible inspires them to pursue their passion in science.
Sophomore Louis Potvin said he fully intends on pursuing a higher education in science.
“I love science,” he said.
Once inside the LeRoy building, the students worked with Karl Weiss who showed them both a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) and a Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM).
The SEM allows the viewer to see the elements that make up an object by focusing on the surface of the example.
Weiss showed the students a crystal.
“What do you think those blocks are?” he asked the assembled students.
Most hemmed and hawed since it was hard to imagine they were looking at the elements that made up the crystal.
“It’s the carbon,” said Weiss.
The students murmured in surprise.
Weiss also showed the group a fire ant magnified 200 times under the TEM. This electron microscope uses an electron beam to pass through a thin part of an object to show the different structures of a sample.
“I’ll show you the hairs on the mandibles,” said Weiss. “These are the things that stick in your skin releasing the poison. Ever felt that?”
The students gave a collective groan in response.
Wandering through the halls of the science buildings at ASU, the students saw a clean room where silicon chips get analyzed and created, they descended to the basement to stand amongst the tubes, wires and electronic panels of the vacuum lab, and watched hands-on experiments in the physical sciences lab.
Besides exposure to the science department, the students also got a taste of the social life at the university by taking a break for lunch in the student union.
The cultural diversity included girls swathed in full burkas juxtaposed with American girls in shorts and short shirts showing lots of skin. Basketball boosters handed out tiny basketballs to advertise an upcoming game, while the theatre group sang songs from a soon-to-be-seen musical they would perform.
Inside the union, the PHS students could choose to eat food from any part of the world while watching FOX news, MSNBC, ESPN and the business channel.
At the end of the day, Rustagi asked her students if they felt the experience had value.
“They said they learned something,” said Rustagi.