Thursday November 8, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Students are getting a charge out of science -- thanks to their schools and a partnership between the National Science Center and the U.S. military.

This week, the National Science Center's Mobile Discovery Center -- an 18-wheel truck and classroom -- made a three-day stop at Herberg Middle School.

The vehicle will make stops at Williams Elementary School on Tuesday, and spend Wednesday through Friday next week at Reid Middle School. It can hold up to 40 students at a time and is a free program.

"Our main purpose is to get them excited about science," said Rich Cadwell, an education services specialist with the National Science Center based at Fort Knox, Ky.

Cadwell is visiting Pittsfield and is co-leading science demonstrations with Sgt. First Class Stephen Navarro, who is working as an exhibit specialist for the U.S. Army Mobile Exhibit Co.

"The National Science Center saw the need for more outreach, and we had the trucks on the road and can maintain them," said Navarro of the partnership.

On Wednesday, Herberg Middle School seventh-graders were shocked -- literally, but gently -- during the Mobile Discovery Center's demonstration of electricity, which combined science and some stand-up comedy.

Molly Trainor, the first student volunteer in her group, bravely placed her hand on a Van de Graaff generator -- a hollow metal globe that rests atop a stand that creates electrostatic current through a moving belt -- while standing on a plastic step stool.


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In seconds, her hair was standing on end, like a character from a Tim Burton film.

"Don't worry," Navarro told her, "your hair will only stay like this for a week." Trainor heaved a sigh of relief when her tresses relaxed after removing her hand from the generator bell.

During the demonstration, students learned that Tesla and AC/DC refer not only to rock bands but to the 19th-century electrical circuit innovator Nikola Tesla and alternating current and direct current, respectively.

"It was definitely interesting," said seventh-grader Juan Salinas.

Teachers agreed.

"What this does is allow students to ask questions, think and inquire," Herberg Grade 7 science teacher Rob Geller said.

To learn more about National Science Center programs and education resources, visit www.nationalsciencecenter.org.

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink