Strong turnout at Science on State Street festival despite rain

FSU students freeze carnations in liquid nitrogen at the “Colorful Delights” table. (Melina Bourdeau)

Framingham State University held the second annual Science on State Street event as part of the Cambridge Science Festival on April 23.

The Cambridge Science Festival is celebrating its tenth year. It is the first festival of its kind in the U.S., according to the Cambridge Science Festival website.

According to Irene Porro, director of the McAullife Center, the Cambridge Science Festival has been expanding across the state.

Porro said based on the number of people who visited the McAuliffe Center to view the planetarium show, the festival attendance was between 300-400 people.

“I think that given it was raining earlier this morning, I’m actually very happy. We were really worried that people would decide not to go out and just do something else,” she said on the day of the event.

Porro served as one of the main organizers for the Science on State Street event. She said she used to work in Cambridge and was involved with the Cambridge Science Festival before she came to FSU.

There are at least two dozen other sites participating in the Cambridge Science festival along with FSU, according to Porro.

“We want to show that there is a really strong offering of STEM programs at FSU, and I think requests by students to get into STEM majors keeps increasing, which is fantastic and shows the quality,” said Porro.

The majority of presenters at the Science on State Street event were FSU faculty or undergraduates. Porro said the collaboration is “really fantastic.”

Some of the more popular presentations included “Robot Programming 101,” “Build a Battery I and II,” “Life Underground,” “The Rube Goldberg Machine” and “Colorful Delights of Chemistry.”

According to Porro, the planetarium was “mobbed” throughout the day. “The planetarium is always popular,” she added.

The presentations were set up in front of Dwight Hall, Hemenway Labs and in the parking lot behind O’Connor Hall.

The sciences featured at the festival included chemistry, food science, physics, earth science, astronomy, space exploration, robotics, engineering, mathematics and biology.

Andres Berrio, a resident of Framingham, said, “I’m here with my family. I will be coming every year now. We just moved to the area. I think the planetarium was the best thing we’ve seen today.”

Christian Gentry, professor of music, attended the fair with his children. He said, “The kids are really enjoying it. I like how the students and professors are doing everything at the same time. It’s really nice.”

Jay Goldstein, a resident of Framingham, said the planetarium show he attended, called “Oasis in Space,” was about water on different planets in space. 

He and his two sons also visited the Chemistry Club’s table called “Colorful Delights,” where FSU students demonstrated what happens when a carnation is frozen in liquid nitrogen.

Goldstein’s son, Noah, 8, said, “The flower got frozen when they put it in there … it got really cold and then she shattered it on the table and it broke.”

Zachary, 10, added, “It felt very cold. And I liked the puzzles over there! I liked playing with the robot, too.”

Noah and Zachary said they came to Science on State Street last year, too.

Computer science professor Jeff Gao was running the “Robot Programming 101” presentation inside the Hemenway Labs. Gao’s son assisted him in running the software and also taught other students how to program the robot to dance and speak.

Dwayne Bell, a chemistry professor, was presenting “Build a Battery II” at which he was breaking down a battery and using some of the inner components paired with additional materials to create a homemade battery.

He said, “People have the impression that science is clean and sterile, but if you do it right, you can learn a lot, and sometimes, it’s just messy. This is a nice, fun demo. Science is always fun when you can use a hacksaw.”

Vandana Singh, chair of the of physics and earth science departments, said, “Our physics focus was ‘Forces of Nature,’ and our earth science focus was rocks. We wanted our displays to be more than just things to watch or play with.”

At the “Forces of Nature” presentation, Singh used magnets and tennis balls to explain gravity to children.

Singh added, “We had people learn, practice and use scientific reasoning to make predictions, and then they experimented to see what would happen.”

She said Kirklan Doherty and Tyler Gmerek, students from the department, were “fabulous, and we had a great crowd – a lot of curious kids and their families.”

Gmerek said, “After being involved this year, I would definitely participate with the physics and earth science department in future years to come.

“I got involved not only to motivate children in the science community, but also too give back some knowledge that I have learned from our brilliant physics and earth science professors,” he added.

According to Margaret Carroll, dean of STEM, “I think it’s great we get to do this. It’s obvious there is a lot of interest out there. To have so many people show up on a Saturday to learn a little bit about science and get to share our beautiful campus is fun.”

She added, “It gives the community a chance to come up onto campus and learn lots of things about science and learn a little bit about FSU at the same time.”

Carroll presented “Where Do Plants Come From?” which showed the ways seeds “ensure the next generation of fruits and flowers.”

She said when teaching children, “Your goals are different. … Obviously, I don’t have to use big words and I can say, ‘Let’s find the baby plant inside the seeds!’”

Singh said, “I think we are building an outreach and community service tradition that is only going to enhance our STEM program.”

According to Singh, the students who volunteered were “animated” and conveyed their knowledge “to the public with so much competence and enthusiasm.”

Porro said, “A festival is really a community event. … We want to bring together the community, to do something fun, to learn more about our campus and our resources.”

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