Friday, July 22, 2011

July 22: Gattaca

A couple of weeks ago we wrapped our summer science film series with the movie "Gattaca." Once again we had another good turn out for some sci-fi movie fun! Plus, we all had a chance to take a break from the oppressive heat of that week!

The movie centered on two main themes, genetic engineering and space travel, which mirrored both the debate in the late 90's on cloning and genetic engineering of humans and the launch of the Cassini-Huygens mission in October of 1997 (which was the release date of the movie!). After the movie, we talked about the scientific background behind genetic engineering and about the fact and fiction behind traveling to Saturn's moon Titan. Highlights of the talk included acknowledging the groundbreaking work done at Columbia, in the Fly Room, where fruit flies were used to understand genetic heredity. We also talked about the genetic engineering used today in making human insulin in bacteria. In regards to space travel, we dispelled the notion of going to Titan and back in one year and had a good discussion about future prospects in space propulsion - pointing to solar sails, ion rockets, and rail guns - a fitting discussion in light of the canceled shuttle program. I also pointed out that this movie is full of science which also includes nods to electric cars, solar energy, and genetic identification.

Two of our graduate students, Jana Grcevic and Christine Simpson, led the telescope viewing from the Low library plaza and Brandon Horn, also a grad student, helped out with movie setup. Thanks to everyone who came to watch, stayed to talk science, and gazed upon the heaven afterwards.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

July 16, 2011: Family Astro: THE SUN

Luckily the clouds stayed away for the Family Astro event on July 16th because the topic was "The Sun". About 10 kids and 10 parents attended the event. Our first activity was tracing our shadow with chalk. We did this once at the beginning of the event, and once two hours later at the end in order to see how the position changed due to the apparent movement of the Sun through the sky. We then made scale models of the Sun and Earth out of paper to show the extreme size difference and large distance between the Sun and the Earth. Next we made our own "UV detector" bracelets out of UV color changing beads (a.k.a. Solar Energy Beads) and tested them outside and in a plastic bag covered in sunscreen. Participants then wrapped a map of the Earth around themselves and rotated like the Earth does, and we shone a lamp on them to simulate the Sun's light. This illustrated the cause of night and day and showed how it can be daytime on one side of the Earth and nighttime on the other. Finally, Graduate Student Duane Lee gave the kids and their parents a peek through a special solar telescope, and gave a tour of the telescope dome on the roof. Thanks to the volunteers for making this event a success!