Museum of Discovery teaches nano science to Carroll County kids

Friday, June 10, 2016
Trenton Blewett, a Green Forest kindergartner, holds up an example of nano technology found in nature ... a butterfly's wing. (Photo by David Bell/Carroll County News)

Carroll County libraries took a microscopic peek at the world of nanoscience on Wednesday with the help of the Museum of Discovery.

Britney Kugler, an outreach educator from the Museum of Discovery in Little Rock, and Jennifer Geeo, assistant librarian at Berryville Public Library, gave a presentation and introduction to nanoscience at all three Carroll County libraries, beginning with Green Forest Public Library in the morning and moving to Berryville and the Eureka Springs Carnegie Library in the afternoon.

Julie Hall, director of the Berryville Public Library, said the Museum of Discovery reached out to her last year while looking for local partners in rural areas. She said the library was encouraged to apply to the Nano Days program sponsored by the National Informal Education Network (NISE), which provides local partners with kits of about 10 to 14 activities involving nanoscience for children.

The Museum of Discovery, Hall said, has facilitated the program, training people from Berryville, Green Forest and Eureka Springs on all the activities in the kits. The kit will remain in Carroll County for the libraries to use, she said, with Geeo serving as the primary trainer for the county.

"We'll be able to set up stations and do nanoscience programs from time to time with the kids," Hall said. "We're very excited about that."

The goal of the program, Kugler said, is to make nanoscience accessible to people of different backgrounds and encourage STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers.

"We just want to reach as many people as we can and hopefully encourage people to pursue STEM careers and become awesome scientists that change the world," she said.

Hall said she knew Kugler would be coming to Berryville to train her staff on using the kit, so she asked Kugler to give the presentation at all of the libraries in Carroll County.

During the presentation at the Green Forest Public Library, Kugler began by explaining to the children that "nano" is a unit of measurement. One meter, she said, equals one billion nanometers.

"If Earth is one meter, a marble would be a nanometer. That's how big the difference is. Nanos are really tiny," Kugler said.

She and Geeo did hands-on science lessons with the kids to help them understand how small nanoscience really is and how it affects the world around them.

The first activity was called "Smelly Balloons." Kugler and Geeo provided the kids with three scented balloons. They had placed vanilla extract in the red balloon, mint extract in the blue balloon and orange citrus in the green balloon.

Kugler asked the children why they were able to smell the scent through the balloons. After a few guesses, one boy correctly suggested that the scent was coming out through nano-sized holes in the balloons.

"That's right! Every balloon has teeny tiny holes in them that lets us smell what's coming out," she said. "It's why balloons don't stay inflated forever. The air escapes through the holes."

Kugler used the balloons and other examples of nanoscience in action to show the children that it exists everywhere. Even the human nose works through nanoscience, she said, because people have small pores inside their nostrils that allow them to smell.

Kugler also conducted an experiment called "Gravity Fails" where children had to fill a regular-sized tea cup and a toy tea cup with water and try to pour the water out into a container. While pouring the water out of the big tea cup was easy, the children discovered that the water remained inside the tiny tea cup even when upside down.

Kugler explained that this was caused by a phenomenon in nanoscience called surface tension, where water molecules want to stick together.

"When there's a large amount of water, gravity is stronger and wins out," she said, "but surface tension tries to keep all those molecules together."

Kugler gave the children examples of animals defying gravity in similar ways, such as lizards and frogs that have tiny scales, allowing them to stick to walls.

"We see nanoscience everywhere in nature," she said.

Once the activities concluded, Kugler told the children that nanoscience is changing the world through all of the technology it produces.

"For example, scientists are using nanoscience to actually learn how to attack cancer cells in people, so hopefully it can even help us beat cancer one day," she said.

The Berryville Public Library will have the nanoscience kit available this summer, Hall said, to use in conjunction with its summer reading program, the Reading Olympics.

"We have Workout Wednesdays as part of the program. Kids can either work out their minds or their bodies, and we will have the nanoscience kit available as a mind workout," she said.

The Reading Olympics is a program sponsored by the libraries in Carroll County, Hall said, where children set reading goals for themselves to reach throughout the summer. These goals can range from increasing their reading speed to simply reading more, she said.

The Reading Olympics held an opening ceremony Monday at Town and Country Lanes in Berryville. Kids who registered for the reading program got a free game of bowling, Hall said.

"We had a great turnout. About 260 kids in total came to the bowling alley Monday for the program's kickoff," she said.

Hall said research shows reading is the best way to keep children's minds active and moving forward when school is not in session. Through the Reading Olympics, she said, the library is hoping to encourage kids to read at least 20 or 30 minutes a day.

"We're trying to get them to hit at least 25 hours of reading over the summer," Hall said. "Any type of reading is good. I always tell the kids it doesn't matter what you're reading as long as you're doing it."

She said she expects the nanoscience kit to help the library with the reading program and future programs down the line.

"This program is trying to explore how you make great interactive science exhibits work in smaller area without designated science museums. We're thrilled to be a part of it," Hall said.

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