Park Slope

Brooklyn’s City of Science mixes science with fun at event for kids

December 18, 2019 Mary Frost
Professor Rick Franchella demonstrated how to make gas clouds of carbon dioxide. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

Youngsters and their families got to fly drones, extract DNA, program robots, walk on water and immerse themselves in dozens of other hands-on science activities at City of Science 2019, this past Sunday at the Park Slope Armory YMCA.

Solid scientific principles were sneakily embedded right into the fun stuff.

On stage, Professor Rick Franchella, head scientist at The Tiny Scientist, showed an audience of highly enthusiastic kids how to make gas clouds of carbon dioxide, which billowed alarmingly from a plastic bin he lugged around.

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In a floor exhibit, children learned how to walk on water. Volunteers held each child by the hand and walked them over a long trough filled with a milky-colored liquid.

Children learned how to walk on Oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle
Children learned how to “walk on water.” Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

Volunteer Aweon Richards, a PhD student at NYU, explained the science.

“We’re working with Oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid,” she said. “When it’s left alone, it looks like a liquid. But once you apply pressure to it, it turns into a solid. If the kids run really fast, the pressure makes it turn into a solid under their feet so they don’t sink in. But if they go very slowly, they’ll sink through.”

In another corner, children climbed into a “coriolis spinner.” There is apparently nothing as satisfying as trying to bonk the kid across from you with a beach ball that you throw while you’re spinning around. Despite the appearance of pandemonium, the young scientists observed that, from their frame of reference, balls, when thrown straight, appear to travel in a curve.

Children throw beach balls while being spun in a “coriolis spinner.” Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle
Children throw beach balls while being spun in a “coriolis spinner.” Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

In another demonstration, participants learned how to use gravity to knock five balls, which were dangling from a contraption atop a tall stick, all into their cups at the same time.


Mechanical engineer Antoneta explained, “We need to get rid of gravity from the perspective of the balls. So we need to drop it in free fall so that the balls and the stick are moving together. It’s sort of like if you jump off an airplane with a book bag. You don’t feel the weight of the book bag on you because you and the book bag are moving together.”

Learning about gravity. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle
Learning about gravity. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

Fans of things that go pop could watch a ball-shaped magnet drop through a copper coil and light up LEDs.

When the magnet falls through the loop, “All the charged particles in the copper wire start moving around,” Zeynep, an engineer from Brookhaven National Labs, explained. “Electrons moving from one point to another is electricity.”

Con Edison brought a bike that you peddle to generate your own electricity, lighting up bulbs if you peddled like mad — which all the kids attempting it did.

“That’s a real brain!” Kids learned neuroscience with braiNY. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle
“That’s a real brain!” Kids learned neuroscience with braiNY. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

Charles Cooper, a middle school student at the French American School of New York in Mamaroneck, said the event was awesome.

“I am very interested in science and physics. That’s why I came. It was really worth it,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle.

Charles said he found especially interesting “the part about gravity around the sun [demonstrated with] marbles, and I also liked when they would talk about patterns in science, and also the organization that brought robot pieces to build robots. It looked like a lot of kids were very interested in that and I found it pretty fun.”

Kids learned mechanical principals working with oversized gears, pulleys and other machines courtesy of The GIANT Room. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle
Kids learned mechanical principals working with oversized gears, pulleys and other machines courtesy of The GIANT Room. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

“We want people to have an immersive experience into science and realize that it’s a blast and they can learn a lot,” Caroline Gelb, senior producer of the event, told the Eagle.

“The beauty of City of Science is that it is for all ages and all levels of science knowledge,” she said. “They’re learning about pretty complex science and rules through really engaging, hands on exhibits. Some of these are really physically large, not something you’re going to see everywhere.”

Volunteers at City of Science include working scientists, PhD’s and post-docs, undergraduates, “tons of New York City high school teachers” and high-school students, Gelb said. “They’re all becoming science ambassadors. So not only is it the audience, but the volunteers are engaged in learning as well.”

Gelb said her favorite exhibit is “Tug of War on Wheels.”

“Because you’re learning Newton’s Third Law, and everybody thinks they’re going to win because they’re strong. But you can’t win because there’s no friction. You’re on carts with wheels and the look on people’s face when they slam into each other right in the middle is priceless.”

Tug of War on Wheels. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle
Tug of War on Wheels. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

Gelb said that many New York City-based science organizations participated in this year’s event, including Genspace (a community biology lab) doing DNA extractions from strawberries; Brooklyn Public Library; and the City Tech and George Westinghouse High School robotics teams. Con Edison is a sponsor.

The World Science Festival takes place every spring. More info here.


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