Through slime and robots, local 8th-graders experience science and engineering

Harvard hosted the Cambridge 8th-Grade Science & Engineering Showcase, celebrating the joy of discovery

Isabella Corcione, 14, blended a powder with water to create a cupful of gel—the same absorbent substance used in diapers. Students were also able to create fake "Hollywood" snow and gummy worms. (Photo by Caroline Perry, SEAS Communications.)

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Harvard Physics Department hosted the Cambridge 8th Grade Science & Engineering Showcase on May 25, 2012. Approximately 400 young students from the Cambridge public schools came to Harvard to meet faculty and graduate students, to experience hands-on (and messy!) demonstrations, and to show off their own projects at a large fair.

Arranged by Kathryn Hollar, Director of Educational Programs at SEAS, and Lisa Scolaro, Cambridge Public Schools' JrK-12 Science Coordinator, the field trip brought science and engineering literally within reach.

"Experiences like this can be critical in helping young students to realize that they can contribute the ideas that will change the world," said Hollar. "If we can encourage their natural curiosity and present them with role models in science and engineering, our hope is that they will be more likely to consider research as a career a few years from now."

Above: In Harvard's Northwest Building, the visiting students were shuttled from room to room on a tightly packed schedule of demonstrations, tours, and activities. While playing with robots, ferrofluids, and gels, they took in lessons about electronics, nanoscience, chemistry, physics, engineering, and the simple joy of discovering something new.

Above: Like the undergraduates in SEAS' Science & Cooking course, eighth-graders Staisha Foster-Jarvis, 14, and Samerawit Winnie, 15, explored the physics and chemistry of food. Their project investigated the effects of baking powder and baking soda on cupcakes.

Above: Jamie Townes, Chelsea Darwin, and Madeline Desnoyers played with non-Newtonian fluids (blended cornstarch and water) with help from physics graduate student Kate Wooley-Brown.

Above: Rob Hart, of the Harvard Physics Department, set up a platform over an audio system to make a cornstarch-and-water mixture "dance" to music.

Above: Amanda Botelho, Hannah Peck, and Amelia Kroner created a diorama of a town and a miniature solar-powered compost truck to demonstrate eco-friendly waste management.

Above: Julysa Paulino and Brian Shaw explored engineering mechanics by building a strong candy bridge.

Above: Mohammad Sayed, a young microscopy enthusiast, won the logo design contest for the Showcase and received a brand-new microscope as a prize.

As it turns out, 400 eighth-graders eat a lot of pizza. Volunteers from SEAS and Physics served lunch in two efficient shifts.

Photos by Caroline Perry, SEAS Communications.