MILTON-FREEWATER - Getting to take a hammer to a water balloon was just one of the perks during an assembly last week at Grove Elementary put on by the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry.
Grove is among several Eastern Oregon and Idaho schools that participated in a traveling program of assemblies and activities presented by OMSI.
Grove students, kindergarten through fifth grade, crammed the school's cafeteria, sitting on the ground or in rows of chairs in the back, to watch Ian Sterry bring science to life.
Sterry, an outreach educator with OMSI, came prepared with chemicals, beakers, balloons, stirrers and safety gear for science experiments with the help of student volunteers.
Sterry was presenting "Altered States," an exploration of how solids, liquids and gases change from one state to another.
"We're going to make some things really cold, we're going to make some things really gooey, and we're going to make some things really sticky," he said. "And at the end, we might even make something explode."
With that, he had the students' attention for the hourlong assembly.
As with any science experiment, safety matters, and Sterry stressed the use of safety goggles and/or gloves. He also asked the students to make sure an adult is present if they tried any of the experiments at home.
To learn about water turning to ice, a water balloon was dropped into a canister of liquid nitrogen, which seeped a vaporous cloud. When it was retrieved after several moments, a student - wearing safety goggles - got to smash it with a hammer. The impact revealed the balloon had shifted from liquid to ice.
At close to 322 degrees below zero, the liquid nitrogen was cold enough to freeze much of the water in the balloon. Its deep chill also produces that spooky vapor.
"Liquid nitrogen is so cold that it actually makes a cloud around it," Sterry said.
Students also got to help with a baking soda and vinegar mixture that produced a gas that filled a balloon fitted over the top of a beaker.
Crushing and then igniting a Life Savers candy produced a hot flame that burned bright white.
At the end, students got to learn what happens when balloons filled with hydrogen come into contact with a flame. The result was a deep boom as it exploded, accompanied by a large round flame that looked like a miniature sun hovering over the room for a split second.
Schools pay a fee for the OMSI visits, but Sterry said the value of the lessons and exposure to OMSI activities makes it worthwhile.
"A lot of times it's cheaper to have schools have us come to them, than for them to come to us," he said.
The visits also have the potential to spark an interest in science.
"The most important part is to get them excited about it," Sterry said.
About OMSI Outreach
OMSI offers one of the largest outreach programs in the nation, bringing innovative science education to students and teachers in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada and Alaska. Programs explore science through hands-on activities and interactive demonstrations. For more information, call 1-800-95-OMSI, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or go online at: omsi.edu/outreach.