Cool science

Northern Illinois University’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math outreach program is bringing interactive activities to four local libraries this spring and summer.

“The projects we have going on now are called ‘Bright Futures: Light the Way.’ Last year it was a partnership with DeKalb Library, but this year we have expanded it to include Sycamore, Hinckley and Cortland,” said Jeremy Benson, outreach and engagement associate for the STEM program.

The program teaches area children about concepts and careers in science and provides hands-on activities to spark children’s interest in energy, electricity and electrical engineering.

The program also provides books, science kits and DVDs that may be checked out from the libraries’ permanent collections.

Benson recently kicked off the program by making appearances at the four libraries.

“We definitely wanted to come,” said Jeanne Serpico of Cortland, who brought her daughter Sabrina, 7, to the Cortland Library on Thursday, Feb. 14. “We told her they could do the trick where their hair could stand straight out.”

The hair-raising trick is the result of static electricity produced by a Van de Graff generator, which was one of the devices that Benson brought for a demonstration about electricity. He also brought lasers, colored lights and a Jacob’s Ladder to demonstrate high-voltage lightning bolts.

Benson will make return trips to the libraries in March to give demonstrations about “squishy circuits,” which will demonstrate how electrical current can flow through substances like Play-Doh.

“Just regular Play-Doh like you buy at the store is electrically conductive,” Benson explained. “You can make dough at home that is even more conductive than Play-Doh, but you can also use sugar instead of salt to make a dough that does not conduct electricity.”

Benson said that he tries to tailor the presentation to elementary and middle school-aged kids.

“By the time they get to high school, they have made the decision whether they think science is for them or not,” he said.

The program will culminate in June with an Electric Fair. For more information about STEM events, visit www.niu.edu/stem.

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