Young Maddy positions herself on a square taped to the floor. As soon as she gets her cue, she starts jumping up and down, repeatedly.
Ponytail flipping, eyes glued to the computer monitor in front of her, she jumps for 10 seconds before her time is up. A printout translates the force of her jumps into a seismogram, that graph of squiggly lines that has been much in the news lately after earthquakes in Chile and Haiti.
Maddy was only one of a line of kids at Hollister School on Thursday evening who got to make their own earthquake, courtesy of the UCSB Institute of Crustal Studies. The UCSB scientists were one of many exhibitors at Hollister’s Science Night, a presentation of science- and technology-related exhibitions and activities geared toward the elementary school set.
If they weren’t trying to figure out who could make the biggest earthquake, kids were checking out turtles, snakes and reptiles in another classroom, or poking at sea urchins and other marine creatures. Children were racing the radar gun wielded by a Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputy, or learning about marine mammals.
“Science can really be found in so many things,” said Science Night coordinator Donna Conran.
Conran, who co-coordinated Science Night at Hope School before moving it to Hollister School about a year ago, was able to garner 32 exhibitors this time around. Exhibits from organizations as local as Goleta Valley Beautiful to ones as big as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association showcased activities and presentations of everything from physics to biology to earth sciences.
“Kids love anything that’s hands-on or interactive,” Conran observed.
Talk about hands-on: In one room, a Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital physician lays out human organs collected from autopsies or donations. As slightly squeamish parents watch, the kids don gloves and hold, poke and squeeze.
“This is a normal liver here,” explained Dr. Timothy Cloherty, handling a dark brown organ. “And this is an abnormal liver here that’s gotten cirrhosis, probably someone who was drinking too much,” he said, holding up an enlarged, scarred, knobby liver.
Despite the less-than-fresh odor emanating from the preserved hearts, brains and other organs, Niki Cox was glad to be there. Her son, Nathan, is not a Hollister student, but she couldn’t pass up the chance to introduce him to the sciences first-hand.
“We home-school, and we don’t do a lot of science at home, so we wanted to bring him here,” Cox said as Nathan prodded at a lung blackened by too much smoking.
For the kids, it may have been a night of snakes and bovine eye dissections and fun with dry ice, but for Conran, who’s planning to hand the Science Night reins over to a successor, it’s a work she hopes will continue to get bigger.
“I think were starting to lose our enthusiasm for science and research, as a country,” she said. “And we really need people who will go into those fields and continue to research so we can learn new things as a country and continue to get better.”