20 years of fun with science

MARSHALL – The Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative’s Science and Nature Conference celebrated its 20th year as nearly 1,000 students took part in the 2014 event on Wednesday throughout the Southwest Minnesota State University campus.

“Everything went very well,” said Andrea Anderson, student activities assistant at the Service Cooperative. “The keynotes, Shane Wood and Claire Hypolite from the University of Minnesota Physics Force team did an excellent job getting the kids all pumped up for the day.”

More than 400 adults and 30 presenters were also in attendance in addition to the curious young students from 31 different schools, including the area schools of Marshall Area Christian School, Marshall Middle School, Canby Elementary, Clarkfield Charter, Dawson-Boyd Steven’s Elementary, Lakeview, Minneota Elementary, Murray County Central Elementary, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Middle School, Tracy St. Mary’s and Bert Raney Elementary in Granite Falls.

“It’s a great experience for the students,” MCC teacher Mark Schleisman said. “They always have excellent presenters.”

MCC brought 42 students, from kindergarten to sixth grade, and 20 parents to the conference this year, said Schleisman, who noted that he especially liked sitting in on Mike Lynch’s session. Lynch has a passion for astronomy, teaching classes and putting on star parties in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

To understand and observe how Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion works, students had the opportunity to build and launch and Estes model rocket at the “Rocket Blast Off” session.

“Newton said, ‘for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,'” presenter Bill Weber said. “Right now, our action is the burning of that gas. The reaction is the rocket going up.”

When asked by a youngster whether or not the engines could be reused, SW/WC Service Cooperative volunteer Tom Hoff told him that once was the limit.

“The engine can only be used once,” Hoff said. “You might not even find it again. That’s kind of the thrill of rocketing. If the wind takes it, you might not ever know where your engine or rocket goes.”

Students first had to assemble their rockets, proceeding step-by-step. After assisting her son Spencer, Marshall mom Karen Wambeke helped Canby Elementary’s Ty Stokes and Clarkfield Charter’s Sydney Hedman and Joey Graw tie knots on the rubber band. After volunteers helped students glue fins on the rocket, each of them added decorations.

“I put on a sticker of a planet, and I drew on it a little and some stars,” Marshall student Ashton Schnaser said. “This conference is really fun. Some of my friends were doing this session, and it sounded kind of fun to launch a rocket. I think it’ll be close to fireworks. I love doing fireworks.”

Schnaser said he also enjoyed the “All About Animals” session.

“I got to see some animals and pet them,” Schnaser said. “There was a turtle, a duck, a snake and a chinchilla. I liked the chinchilla the best.”

This year marked the first time that Schnaser attended the Science and Nature Conference.

“I’ve been to the writing and drawing conferences, but this is my first time coming to the science one,” he said. “This one is the most fun.”

Windom resident Pam Gahler brought her grandson, John McMenimen of Butterfield, to his fourth Science and Nature Conference.

“He’s a fifth-grader who goes to a small school that doesn’t have a lot of science opportunities,” Gahler said. “This conference provides a super opportunity for him. It’s a great day for us to spend together and explore science. I take the day off. It’s a lot of fun.”

McMenimen said he enjoyed the “Cryogenics: the amazing science of the ultra cold” session as well as the “Helicopter Relays” one. Like MCC’s Karissa Hurd and Mary McNab, McMenimen couldn’t wait to open up and examine the tub full of items with table parter Caleb Witte from RTR at the “Be an Archaeologist” session.

Along with Bert Raney student Alex Formo and Renville County West student Jonathan Hodge, Marshall’s Kary DeVlieger took turns operating a Blade MCX 2 helicopter.

“It was hard at first, but then you got the hang of it,” DeVlieger said. “I haven’t done this kind of thing before, but I’ve seen other people do it.”

DeVlieger, a sixth-grader, said the most difficult part was “having control over the helicopter.”

“You have controllers that go up and down and side to side,” she said. “I thought the session was cool, getting to learn how to fly the helicopters and take control over them.”

This year marks the first that DeVlieger attended the conference, but she said she’s glad she did.

“I think the conference is really cool,” she said. “I like all the fun activities you get to do and watch. This morning, I went and watched a scientist do fun experiments. That was interesting. This afternoon, I have this ‘Fun with Kitchen Science’ session.”

Lakeview fourth-grader Brock Bossuyt enjoyed the “Grossology: the icky, the yuck, the gross” session.

“That was fun,” Bossuyt said. “You could have eaten a mealworm, but I didn’t want to.”

Bossuyt said he also had fun at the “Air Power – Mad Science” and “It’s Not Magic, It’s Science” sessions.

“I learned that if you use different air, the fire gets stronger,” Bossuyt said. “I liked it when he put the potatoes in the water. And then the scientist guy (Jerry Wenzel) did a lot of weird stuff, like science experiments. It was cool. I laughed a lot.”

In addition to astronomy, chemistry, physics, archaeology, biology, rocketry, food science, cryogenics and aviation, students also had the opportunity to have hands-on experiences with crime investigation, fire fighting, geocaching, minerals in the rock world, knot tying, veterinarian work, Ancient Egypt mysteries and strange creatures of Minnesota.

“We had a great bunch of presenters and sessions going on with lots of excitement,” Anderson said. “All the sessions I was able to step into looked and sounded like everyone was having a blast. It is always so fun to see all the kids running around with smiles on their faces, excited to get to their next class. It was a great day.”