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Local Children Experiment with Science at Hamilton


Some say that the Hamilton students look younger every year, and if you’ve seen the crowd at the Taylor Science Center over the past several weeks, you might even say that they look to be about nine-years-old.

Well, that’s because they are about nine-years-old, and although the children visiting from Oneida, Clinton, and New Hartford elementary schools are not technically Hamilton students, they come to Hamilton to learn just as biology and physics majors do.

The visits, which take place over the beginning of summer and March break, give local children a glimpse into being a scientist and encourage the children recognize the wonders of the natural world around them. The visits consist of 30-minute modules, each of which showcases kid-friendly experiments and topics in biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, geosciences, or teambuilding. Organized by Chemistry Professor Karen Brewer and supported by the COOP (Community Outreach & Opportunity Project), the field trip to Hamilton functions as a day of both education and excitement.

This year, the visits started with an introduction to psychology by Assistant Professor of Psychology Keelah Williams, who demonstrated the interactions between the eye and the brain through the use of optical illusions. The children then split up into smaller groups to rotate through the remaining subjects. 

Though different faculty typically lead the talks, over the summer student research assistants Lindsay Gearty ’21 and Andrew Projansky ’21 presented the physics demonstration under the guidance of Litchfield Professor of Astronomy Gordon Jones, teaching the children about pressure. They did this through several experiments, including one that used air pressure to crumple a large, tin box and another that showed the distribution of force, which Projansky illustrated by laying on a bed of nails.

Professor of Biology David Gapp, despite his retirement, returned to lecture for a couple sections. During the biology presentation, the children learned about the various types of reptiles and their respective adaptations as snakes, turtles, and an alligator slithered and squirmed around them.

After an explanation of the animals’ unique features and environments, the children had the opportunity to interact with the reptiles, assisted by adults and college student helpers. Many children said hello to Shelby, the giant tortoise who had circled the lab throughout the talk, and a daring few let Copper, a corn snake, rest on their shoulders.

As a break and community exercise, Hamilton students led the children in a series of teambuilding activities, including “walk tag” and an advanced game of rock-paper-scissors. This allowed the children to release some of their energy before returning to the classroom.

Like in previous years, Brewer and Director of Laboratories Shawna O’Neil took charge of the chemistry display. They demonstrated the flower-shattering capabilities of liquid nitrogen, how to set your lunch money on fire without losing it, and how to make slime. Throughout their experiments, Brewer and O’Neil introduced the children to parts of the scientific method and key terms like “hypothesis.”

For the final demonstration, the children all reconvened and volunteers for the geoscience department set off a trashcan “volcano” that sprayed green coloring and foam high into the air. Met with laughter and shrieks of delight, Professor of Geosciences Dave Bailey set it off again and let the children look at the remains of the volcano mixture.

The children overall expressed enthusiasm and joy for the sciences to which they were exposed, and they left Hamilton equipped with a greater curiosity for the natural world and some experiments they could try at home.

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