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Campus welcomes kids for National Lab Day

In labs across campus May 12, students dropped tennis balls into liquid nitrogen, bent light and learned how computers can be used to counter terrorism. Dozens of area children came to Binghamton University to experience science, technology and engineering in the first-ever National Lab Day.

Three labs engaged students in hands-on learning as part of the celebration, which was organized by Rachel Coker, director of research advancement. Several other faculty members will visit Greater Binghamton schools this month to give talks and demonstrations as part of the initiative.

David Klotzkin, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, used lasers, lenses and paints to demonstrate to children that light is a wave. He showed how some materials can cause light to bend or separate into the colors of the rainbow, and he spoke about how understanding the properties of light is important to society. Second-grader Mary Grace Dimock enjoyed the exhibit and said she liked learning about solar panels because “when the light reflects from the sun it makes power.”

Eric Cotts, chair of the Department of Physics, Applied Physics and Astronomy, set up interactive stations to describe several physical phenomena, such as what happens when you place a balloon in a vacuum or a tennis ball into liquid nitrogen. These activities demonstrated properties of air, static electricity, magnetism and temperature to seventh- and eighth-graders.

Lijun Yin, associate professor of computer science, used computer simulations to show students in fifth through 10th grades how computers can be used to create avatars, identify faces and recognize expressions. Students and parents were interested in how this technology could be used in interrogation practices, lie detecting and producing videogames.

“The students and the parents had lots of questions,” Yin said, “and that’s good because it shows that they’re interested and they’re listening.”

More than 200 organizations, including the National Science Foundation, the National Science Teachers Association and the American Chemical Society, participated in National Lab Day. The event was organized to reinvigorate science, math and technology education by connecting scientists and educators.

“It’s a priority of our nation to increase young kids’ interest in learning,” Yin said. “National Lab Day is a way for us to emphasize the importance, interest and impact of science and technology on our society. This was also an opportunity for us to showcase our research and attract bright students to computer science.”

Dawn Dimock, Mary Grace’s mother, said she would definitely bring her kids to National Lab Day again in the future. “It was a great opportunity to get our kids exposed to science,” she said.

The faculty members who participated enjoyed themselves as well. “It’s fun to show these kinds of things,” Klotzkin said. “And it’s a teaching challenge to get the basic concepts across without using complex terminology.”

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