On a hot summer Saturday, few things are cooler than a planetarium show. It plays to the sense of wonder we all share about the sky, space and what travels around out there—and it’s air conditioned.
Science Saturdays are a program at Weber State University involving hands-on demonstrations and a planetarium presentation for families at the Ott planetarium. As part of the Ogden City Parks Department’s RAMP Summer Programs, these Saturday programs have been taking place for more than five years.
The aim is to give attendees an accessible, fun and interactive place to explore, while giving volunteers the opportunity to see science outreach in action.
“The (volunteers) are future scientists, and they need to learn how to speak to the public about science and their research,” said Amy Jo Proctor, assistant planetarium director, who runs Science Saturdays.
Activities change depending on the volunteers available. On July 4th, classrooms were opened for forensics, astronomy, physics and chemistry.
The forensics exhibit, presented by microbiology student Genevieve Antoine and forensics student Amy Oliber, consisted of fingerprinting and chromatography. They were recruited via email. “We got an email and filled out a little application,” Oliber said of volunteering.
The attendees used graphite and clear tape to look at fingerprints and compare them to the basic fingerprint types. “They get a little more in depth, but I figure for this these are appropriate,” Said Oliber.
Then they were given markers and a small amount of alcohol. When they make a mark on a piece of paper and let it sit in the alcohol, the different tints that make up the ink color separated.
Physics was run by Murielle Shallvetter, who is majoring in teaching physics and minoring in teaching English. “And I bend space/time, now, apparently. I can add that to my resume,” she said.
Shallvetter accomplished this by stretching a sheet across a hoop, and held it up with a ring of tables so that the middle was unsupported. Then different types of balls were rolled onto the sheet, causing it to warp. As the balls came to rest, the sheet became a gravity well, and the objects that followed acted like satellites and meteors.
The New Horizons probe was the focus of both the planetarium show and the astronomy demo, which was presented by Edward Allen, who is studying physics with an emphasis on astrophysics. “I love doing this kind of stuff. I love talking about space, teaching about space,” he said.
The astronomy demo discussed Pluto, the New Horizons’ fly-by and why it was first added to the planets but then re-categorized.
Interestingly, it seems that the kids are more accepting of Pluto’s re-classification than their parents. “It’s the parents that say ‘So what? make it a planet again,'” Allen said.
Given the holiday, there were small crowds to get into the planetarium show, though Proctor says the crowds normally run anywhere from 2-300 to as many as 500 for Science Saturdays.
According to the feedback Proctor receives, the attendees leave excited to do more science when they get home, using gift bags provided by the program.
“Bring your families to Science Saturdays, it’s great fun,” said Proctor.
The attendees seem to agree. Taylee Johnston, who wants to be an astronomer, and Russel Taylor, who would like to design games, both said that the experience was fun and that they would like to attend again in the future.