Berkeley Lab's Open House Draws Curious Public Into Science Realm

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Nearly 6,000 community members came to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's biannual open house Saturday to participate in hands-on science activities and informational demonstrations.

The all-day event offered adults and children a rare chance to learn about the lab's research. Though the lab is normally closed to the public, buses ran throughout the day to ferry visitors to and from the Berkeley lab's hillside venue.

The event included children-centered demonstrations about the colors of starlight in outer space aimed to interest school-age children in scientific fields.

"In terms of kids, our main goal is to get them up here and enjoying science," said Ron Kolb, spokesperson for the Berkeley lab. "We are thrilled to see so many kids up here today."

A hands-on exhibit area allowed children to tangle with the problems of rocket science and electrical engineering by making paper rockets and miniature circuit boards.

"The coolest thing I saw today is this electronic design board," said 9-year-old Isaac Hirsh, while at the exhibit. "I'm just putting wires on and seeing what happens."

Kyle Tully, another young event participant, said he was looking forward to seeing the Berkeley lab

electron microscope and learning how it is related to his biology classes at school.

But the event was not just for children; lectures and tours about everything from antimatter to genetic sequencing helped interested adults and Bay Area teachers better understand difficult topics.

Tours of the Advanced Light Source were offered throughout the day, as well as visits to the Nano-fabrication Laboratory and Berkeley lab's massive cyclotron, where displays highlighted locations where scenes from the upcoming film "The Hulk" were filmed in the spring.

Live bands and an ad hoc food court lent a carnival-like aspect to the event, with posters about protein engineering substituting for midway games.

At one booth called "Ask a Scientist" a different Berkeley lab researcher arrived every hour to answer impromptu questions posed by passersby.

While at the booth, Berkeley lab scientist Ashok Gadgil discussed his invention of a cheap and portable water purification kiosk called UV Waterworks, which is already used in many poor regions of the world.

Nearly 200,000 people worldwide currently get their water from his system, he said.

"In Manila, for example, we set up water kiosks using UV Waterworks (because) bottled water was too expensive," Gadgil said.

Some Berkeley lab researchers who volunteered their time to run the day's events said they had as much fun as the children.

"We've got experiments set up for kids so they can play with DNA in test tubes," said Paraic Kenny, an open house volunteer and Berkeley lab researcher. "It's also fun to see them run around in their lab coats."

Other demonstrations were aimed at providing Bay Area teachers with curriculum materials relating to work being done at the Berkeley lab.

One such project on display, "The Particle Adventure," involved an interactive, Web-based look at subatomic particles intended for high school students.

"A lot've high school students use (the display) because there are not many high school textbooks on particle physics," said presenter Lincoln Sanders, an educational outreach worker at the lab.

Many Bay Area teachers gave extra credit to students attending Saturday's open house, Sanders added.


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