NIU physics student
Tim Maxwell shows what happens when you touch the electrostatic machine.
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Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
October 3, 2008
DeKalb, Ill. — Every Halloween season, hundreds of young people flock to Northern Illinois University for the annual Haunted Physics Laboratory. This year’s event promises to be bigger and spookier than ever – and it might just make your hair stand on end, quite literally.
Spooky Science Saturday, featuring the Haunted Physics Lab and its new companion, the Creepy Chemistry Lab, will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct 25, in Faraday Hall on the NIU campus.
Members of the public can arrive any time during the open house event. Entrance is free, although a $2 donation is suggested. Free parking will be available in the NIU Parking Deck along the west side of Normal Road, about one block north of Lincoln Highway (Route 38). Visitors can enter Faraday Hall from Faraday West, through the tunnel on the lower level.
The event attracted 1,100 visitors to campus last year. This time around it has been expanded to two floors within Faraday Hall, tripling the amount of space devoted to amazing and weird science.
The darkened laboratories will feature more than 80 interactive displays, including floating magnets, a levitating ghost, a hair-raising electrostatic machine and a “witch’s cauldron,” filled with a concoction of water and chilly liquid nitrogen. Visitors can don “rainbow glasses,” get creative with glow-in-the-dark face paints, ponder the lightning bolts in a plasma globe and make artworks that will only appear normal in funhouse-like mirrors.
A fog machine is used for visualization of lasers. Other light and optical displays include an electrical Jacob’s ladder. Volunteer students and professors will be on hand to explain the science behind the demonstrations.
And, thanks to the NIU Chemistry Club, kids will have an opportunity to make take-home slime.
“Kids are naturally curious. They love Halloween, and the holiday provides an opportunity to draw them into hands-on science,” says Pati Sievert, NIU's outreach coordinator for science, technology, engineering and math. “Parents love it, too, because the kids are having fun and learning at the same time. I get parents each year who say they learned something new as well.”
Spooky Science Saturday is part of a larger NIU outreach effort to spark young people’s interest in the sciences well before they reach college age.
“The number of college students who want to pursue careers in the sciences is down nationally,” Sievert says. “We’re trying to get kids interested in the sciences before they’re finished with middle school. We want to encourage them to think about science careers before they make decisions in high school that might make the path more difficult, such as not taking advanced math or science courses.”
Sievert has run workshops for educators on how to create their own successful haunted labs. She also has presented on the success of the NIU program to the American Association of Physics Teachers.
Groups of more than 15 people are asked to contact Sievert in advance of the Oct. 25 event. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. A limited number of school groups can be accommodated prior to 1 p.m.
Sievert also is looking for volunteer workers. Area teachers who participate will earn Continuing Professional Development Units. They also will receive an advance tour of the displays and a booklet on how to create similar displays for their classrooms.
The Haunted Physics Lab is sponsored by NIU Outreach, the Department of Physics and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. For more information, see www.outreach.niu.edu/stem/haunted_lab.shtml.
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