Spotlight on Science

At the World Science Festival, kids learn what it’s like to be a professional scientist

Jun 07, 2013 | By TFK Kid Contributor Paloma Kluger
RICHARD B. LEVINE—NEWSCOM

World Science Festival participants star-gaze in Brooklyn Bridge Park, in New York City.

The World Science Festival gives kids a chance to get hands-on experience with science. The annual festival, which was held in New York City during the first week of June, began in 2008. This year’s event featured nine workshops that allowed kids to interact with scientists and learn more about what they do. TFK Kid Contributor Paloma Kluger attended three workshops: Oceanographer’s Apprentice, Roboticist’s Apprentice, and Food Scientist’s Apprentice.

Under the Sea

Before the Oceanographer’s Apprentice workshop, TFK talked to Dr. Kate Stafford, an oceanographer at the University of Washington. She explained her job: “Oceanographers study many different things about the ocean, including the physical currents, the chemistry, and the geology of the ground beneath the ocean,” Dr. Stafford told TFK.

It’s pitch black deep down in ocean waters. A technique called echolocation helps the animals use sound to "see" in the dark.  The Oceanography workshop included an echolocation game. We also listened to recordings of different creatures in the Arctic Ocean. Finally, we made sea-creature sounds by blowing up balloons and letting the air out while squeezing or stretching the opening.

Paloma Kluger helps her team advance their robot along the path marked by a black line during a workshop at the World Science Festival.
COURTESY KLUGER FAMILY
Paloma Kluger helps her team advance their robot along the path marked by a black line during a workshop at the World Science Festival.

Meet the Robots

The Roboticist’s Apprentice Workshop featured Dr. Edward Olsen, a professor of robotics at the University of Michigan. He programs robots and gives them sensors so they can perform their jobs and missions, like search and rescue operations.  Some can walk and some can move on wheels. It can take a long time to get the programming right. “If a robot runs into something, you know you’ve got more work to do,” Dr. Olsen said.

Teams of two got a small, toy-sized robot with wheels. Our job was to program it, first by waving it over a black line on a poster board, so its sensor would learn to recognize black and white. Next, we raced their robots along the black line, adjusting its switches to control its speed and sharpness on turns. The winning team’s time was 19 seconds.

Finally…All About Food

The last workshop was the Food Scientist’s apprentice workshop, led by Dr. Amanda Kinchla, a food scientist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Dr. Kinchla is currently studying new and safer ways to wash vegetables, especially leafy greens like spinach. Different farmers use different methods to clean their vegetables. Some use something like a bathtub of water, others use big washing contraptions.  “I am currently studying different farms in Massachusetts,” Dr. Kinchla said. “We want to make vegetables safer for consumers.”

Dr. Kinchla’s workshop included two educational food experiments and a taste-test of two drink samples, one red and the other blue. We rated the drinks on a scale of 1 to 9 for sweetness, fruitiness, and sourness. Most ranked the two drinks differently. In fact, their only difference was color. Would you have guessed that the appearance of a drink influences how you taste it? For scientists, such insights are all in a day’s work.