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Scientists bring fun and games to Torrey Pines Elementary

Torrey Pines Elementary School hosted its 20th annual Science Discovery Day March 25, giving students a chance to perform experiments with 45 mentors in the house to guide the young scientists.

“It’s a great way to get kids engaged with science and technology,” said John May, parent volunteer and event coordinator. “There are a lot of great careers in the sciences and this helps expose them, in a small way, to these students.”

The scientists facilitated age-appropriate experiments to try on rotation. The younger students put pieces of broken plates back together at the archeology station while the older students witnessed chemical reactions and examined real animal brains. “Lectures about science tend to be dry, but when students do things hands-on, they get the ‘oh wow’ factor,” May said. “You can teach kids about chemistry without saying chemistry, or teach physics without saying physics — they can make volcanoes and use silly putty.”

He added that once students are introduced to scientific concepts, their interest could be piqued and carried over for years.

Kevin Intriligator, a UCSD physics professor and Torrey Pines parent, agreed. “A lot of kids this age are naturally interested in science, but as they get older, they get scared off. As long as they know science is fun and see it as play, they can stay interested.”

Intriligator brought the ever-popular Van de Graaff generator to create electricity that causes hair to stand up and makes small bolts of lightning. “If they see these dramatic things that go beyond what we can see with our eyes, such as electricity and magnetic fields, but that have an effect on things we can see, they start making connections,” he said.

May added that the younger the students make these connections, the better. “Kids generally don’t develop an interest in science later in life, so it’s really important to plant the seed when they are young. In 20 years, people need to be capable of doing whatever the next level of science is, and they need to get interested now or we won’t have enough scientists in the future.”

The science pros in attendance came from a pool of parents and reserachers working nearby. “Because of where we are and our proximity to UCSD and the biotech companies, we have a parent bank with a wide variety of expertise to share,” May said.