A glimpse of the Bay area science festival

End of October marked the beginning of the 6th Bay area science fest, a week full of science activities scattered throughout the Bay area. The calendar of events was quite impressive: talks, lab visits, science comedy night, organ painting, food science at the farmer’s market, just to name a few.

I was lucky enough to directly participate in one of the various events. The last day of the fest, Discovery day, was a free-entry science fair housed in the AT&T park, San Francisco. Several stalls were set up by companies and universities, prepped with hands-on science activities for kids. I volunteered at one of these stalls, managed by Boehringer Ingelheim and Association for women in science (AWIS).

One of our very popular activities was making GAK (playdough) with glue. The recipe was simple: mix one cup glue and one cup water, stir well, add one cup borax (common laundry booster), and viola! The borax crosslinks the glue, transforming it from a gooey mess to a nice, stretchable polymer, but not before you dare to roll up the mess with your hands. Kids LOVED it! They were eager to participate, not worrying about splattering glue all over themselves, while parents watched cautiously from a safe distance (definitely worrying about the splattered glue).

We also provided some basic food colors to make the GAKs more colorful. I was amused to discover (and meet) the extremely specific color demands of some kids. After all, why settle for blue/red/green when you can have purple/teal/orange?

Another favorite activity was the 96-well plate art. This 96-well plate is commonly used for testing up to 96 samples together in biology experiments. We had colored fluids and some pipettes ready for kids, who were willing to take up the challenge of creating their own art-plate. In fact, to make the process simpler, we also provided templates (like a car, flower, etc). Once again, I was pleasantly surprised that most kids insisted on making their own designs and executed them ever so creatively!

There were several other innovative activity-stalls that I could only briefly visit: making up fake blood using candies as different cell types; imaging your cheek cells from a swab; testing fluorescence of glow-sticks at different temperatures; and so on. Overall, it was a very special experience to witness throngs of enthusiastic kids enjoy the learning process throughout the day.

Next year, I hope to contribute to more activities at the fest. Meanwhile, if you have visited a similar sci-fest in your area or elsewhere, I am looking forward to hear about your experiences!

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