Imagine a hybrid between a high school science fair and a county fair with 20,000 people and you have North Bay Science Discovery Day! “Started in 2011, the North Bay Science Discovery Day was created by Buck employees and volunteers to celebrate the unique and wonderful science that happens every day in our Sonoma and Marin Counties,” explained event organizer Julie Mangada, scientist and K-12 education coordination at the Buck. “This event is free to the public and encourages children and families to get excited about science and explore possible local STEM-related careers in an exciting hands-on way.”
This year’s North Bay Science Discovery Day took place on November 1st at the Santa Rosa Fairground. I was right in the middle of the event working the Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Booth with my fellow Buck volunteers. As scientists we all admit that one of our graduate school antics was to drop random things in liquid nitrogen to see what happens. Predictably, this same curiosity led to a crowd of young kids watching the ice cream be made as the liquid nitrogen smoked over the table. Thankfully, no fingers ended up in the tasty vanilla ice cream, and it was an excellent educational moment to explain that liquid nitrogen is so cold it boils when exposed to room temperature air.
The Buck Institute directly staffed two other booths: the Squid Dissection booth, and the Science as Art booth. The Squid booth explored the anatomy of jumbo-sized calamari, and the art booth had a section where the kids could make creative great designs on lab coats using magic markers and the diluting properties of ethanol.
Over 90 exhibits were featured focusing on all areas of science: biology, chemistry, physics, computers, ecology and electricity. Many of the booths provided a way for kids to not just participate, but to take something home. One booth taught kids how to insert a circuit into a card they made, which would then light up. Other booths focused on hands-on processes, including the classic strawberry DNA isolation booth, where you not only extract DNA, but you also get to smell like strawberries for the rest of the day.
As an observer walking amongst the booths, it was encouraging to see so many young kids engaging in activities related to science without a smartphone amongst them. This event gives families and children a friendly and fun venue to interact with the scientific community and will probably be the initial spark for many future North Bay scientists.