Robots invade and volcanos erupt on campus at third annual Science Fest

Post by IU Newsroom intern Sheila Raghavendran

On Saturday, Oct. 22, IU was overrun with robots.

These robots — machines such as PARO, the therapeutic robotic seal — were on site for holding and petting as part of the School of Informatics and Computing’s activities at the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ third annual Science Fest.

Parents and youngsters examine rocks during Science Fest outside Owen Hall on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016.

Parents and children explore rocks outside Owen Hall at IU’s third annual Science Fest.

Many science departments in the college, including chemistry, astronomy, physics and psychological and brain sciences, also hosted activities for students and the general public.

When Science Fest started in 2014, it was the first time these departments and other groups were brought together to hold an event to share science with the public all on one day, according to Tina Gilliland, outreach liaison for the College of Arts and Sciences’ Office of Science Outreach.

This year there were 15 departments and groups holding activities — the highest number Science Fest has seen.

Along with PARO, Science Fest also offered a station for people to try their hand at designing 3D models with the help of Matt Francisco, a visiting lecturer at the School of Informatics and Computing, and his students.

“The kids learn that they need to provide us with enough information to create a 3D model,” Francisco said. “They’re often very good at drawing one perspective, but it’s not enough information to do 3D modeling, so I have my assistants, who are getting them to do at least two views.”

Aside from robot interactions, other activities included an explosive volcanic eruption simulation using water and liquid nitrogen hosted by the Department of Geological Sciences and an earthquake simulation that could be cranked up to a magnitude of 7.0 hosted by the Indiana Geological Survey.

Lauren Reynolds, 10, of Bloomington, smiles as she pets, PARO, an advanced interactive therapeutic baby seal, during Science Fest in Lindley Hall on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016.

Lauren Reynolds, 10, of Bloomington learned about PARO, a therapeutic robot baby seal, during a hands-on event in Lindley Hall.

According to Teddie Phillipson-Mower, associate director for the Office of Science Outreach, these and other Science Fest activities are meant to be fun yet informative.

“It’s not just activity after activity,” she said. “The people running these … they’re explaining the science behind everything that’s happening.”

The volcanic eruption simulation took place outside the Student Building in a large trash can. When activated with liquid nitrogen, the trash can launched several feet into the air, erupting with water and golf balls.

Ian Wang, a Ph.D. student in geological sciences, broke down the volcanic simulation process.

“This whole trash can will be simulating the magma chamber,” Wang said. “If we put liquid nitrogen in it — because liquid nitrogen is so cold when it is put in the water — it will turn into gas… [and] expand. This expansion is really fast and eventually it will actually explode and blow water out. That’s like what happens in the real volcanic eruption.”

Bloomington High School South freshman Tabby Duvall said she did not know much about earthquakes before Science Fest, but that experiencing the simulation at the Indiana Geological Survey “Quake Cottage” gave her some insight on how to prepare.

Water erupts out of a trash can as part of a volcanic eruption demonstration during Science Fest outside the Student Building on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016.

A trash can spews water and golf balls as part of a volcano demonstration outside the Student Building.

“It’d be kind of scary to be in a 7.0,” Duvall said. “I just learned what to do in an earthquake — you have to cover your head and grab onto something; go into storage and bring food and water in case of [emergency].”

Bloomington resident Michael Cole said he brings his kids to Science Fest every year to encourage their exploration of sciences.

“Each year it seems like there are better events and more and more people, which is fantastic,” Cole said. “One thing I noticed this year specifically is that it seems like there’s more and more women in the sciences, which for my daughter is very inspirational.”

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