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April 15, 2014

OWL, college team up to teach kids science

By Jessica Reynolds Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — More than 70 little ones gathered at SUNY Oneonta’s Science Discovery Center on Saturday to learn about a world far littler than their own.

At the fourth annual NanoDays, sponsored by the Oneonta World of Learning, children ages four to 13 and their guardians were introduced to nanoscale science. According to Kelly Gallagher, a chemistry professor at SUNY Oneonta and assistant director of the Science Discovery Center, nanoscale science basically deals with “things that are really small.”

A host of free presentations, workshops and hands-on activities demonstrated the tiny world of atoms, molecules and their properties, as well as tools used by nanoscientists, Gallagher said. “Nano” refers to anything that is so minuscule that it is measured in nanometers, which is one-billionth of a meter. This is 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Particles this small behave differently than larger particles of the same material, Gallagher said, which makes the topic very interesting to study. 

The afternoon seminar was part of a nationwide festival of educational programs about nanoscale science, engineering and its potential impact on the future. Organized by the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network, NanoDays programs comprise North America’s largest public outreach effort in informal nanoscale science education, involving science museums, research centers and universities from Puerto Rico to Alaska, according to a SUNY Oneonta media release.

Gallagher said participants learned how materials are made on a molecular level, played with magnetic fluid, electroplated nickels to make them look like pennies and studied how snowflakes are formed. They built their own snowflakes, pretended to be molecules trying to squeeze through a nano-sized hole, explored capillary action through a colorful chromatography art project, ate cookies shaped like laboratory tools and imagined what life would be like if everyone wore invisibility cloaks, she said.

“The kids are always so excited,” Gallagher said. “That’s one of my favorite parts of the event.”

Gallagher said a particular exciting workshop was “Dr. Reyda’s Microscopic Marvels Workshop” presented by Florian Reyda, an assistant biology professor at SUNY Oneonta and well-known parasitologist. Reyda, who was featured on an episode of The Dr. Oz Show last year, introduced guests to the world of parasites. Participants got to see magnified images of parasites that exist in the wild and some that can infect humans, dogs and local fish.

SUNY Oneonta students who have conducted parasitic research alongside Reyda at the SUNY Oneonta Biological Field Station near Cooperstown helped with demonstrations, Gallagher said. One student taught guests about a new organism that was discovered this past semester.

SUNY Oneonta biology, chemistry and physics majors did a great job assisting with the presentations and activities, Gallagher said.

“My favorite part of the event is watching the college students, who have been in my classes, being so good with the children,” Gallagher said. “It’s very gratifying.”

Overall, Gallagher said, the event went very well and received a great deal of positive feedback.

“The parents and children said the activities this year were better than ever,” Gallagher said. “And we intend to do it again next year.”