A Banana Piano and Other Scientific Marvels
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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
APRIL 7, 2017 – From time to time, Nadia Ramirez enjoys a bowl of Cheerios. Until Wednesday, she had no idea that the iron in Cheerios makes them magnetic.
Put some Cheerios on a string, hold up a magnet and they will swing toward it.
First-grader Nadia planned to tell her family all about it when she headed home from her day at Sedge Garden Elementary School.
“They might freak out” was her assessment of how they might take the news.
First-grader Paris Brown learned that, because bananas conduct electricity, you can hook them up and turn them into a sort of electronic piano.
“I think it was cool,” Paris said after playing the banana piano.
All this new knowledge about science was made possible by a visit by people from the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering of N.C. A&T State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
When Serena Mumford, the school’s technology facilitator, saw an article about Jim Ryan, the school’s founding dean, taking professors and students out into the community on “The NanoBus” to get students excited about science, she thought, “That sounds cool.” She checked in with Principal Donald Wyatt, and he liked the idea, too.
“I hope the students leave today amazed at what they can accomplish in science and technology,” she said as the kindergarten and first-grade students visited the learning stations.
Who knows? she said, perhaps it might spark an interest that could lead to a career in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) for some of them.
When the kindergarten and first-graders arrived in the gym, Ryan drew a huge laugh from the group when he said, “You will be able to play the piano on some bananas.”
At each table set up in the gym, one of the NanoBus people would focus on some intriguing aspect of science and engineering. Nanotechnology came up. But so did lots of other topics as well. At his table, doctoral candidate Sahil Tahiliani had set up a 3D printer and let students play with some of the devices it had made. At her table, doctoral candidate Snehal Shah had created a frame that was three plastic straws long and two straws wide to make giant bubbles so that she could talk with students about such topics as surface tension.
“The lady with the bubbles” was first-grader Jasmine Garcia-Granados’ favorite stop.
What did she like about the giant bubble? “I like that you can stretch and you can make it bigger,” Jasmine said.
Students came through in shifts and, by the time the visit was done, about 600 Sedge Garden students had explored the science behind electric bananas, magnetic Cheerios, giant bubbles and more.
‘I’m hoping they are learning that science is a lot of fun,” said Mitzi Dalton, a kindergarten teacher assistant as she watched her students explore.
Nanotechnology is about working with extremely small things. A nanometer is 1 billionth of a meter, which can make it challenging to try to visualize such things. One of the fringe benefits of talking about nanotechology, said Megan Houston, who is the instructional facilitator at Sedge Garden, is that it could help students understand that just because you can’t see something that doesn’t mean it’s not real.
Many of the adults learned something new along the way as well.
First-grade teacher Melanie Pulliam had no idea that Cheerios are magnetic. ‘I’m learning, too,” she said.
First-grader Addison Church was wearing a set of rabbit ears that she had gotten the day before. She has every intention of wearing them each and every day until Easter. She was especially looking forward to wearing them to school today for the Easter egg hunt. Addison has yet to see the Easter bunny in person but has hopes of catching a glimpse this year.
Addison didn’t need any convincing about science being fun. She already is a big fan.
“I like experiments,” she said.
She will certainly use science in the profession she plans to pursue.
“I want to be a veterinarian,” she said.
Several of the doctoral candidates who had come on The Nanobus are focusing on learning how nanotechnology can help deliver medicines more effectively throughout the body. With nano experts around, it seemed like a good opportunity to ask whether they have any suggestions for helping people visualize just how small a nanometer is.
“Imagine you had one billion dollars and I took one from you,” said doctoral candidate Demetrius DeNize, who was manning the Cheerios table.
That is a nano, he said.
Impossible to picture, isn’t it?