Sabic Innovative Plastics helps Berkshire Head Start kids make science shimmer


PITTSFIELD -- Sometimes it's OK to live in a bubble, particularly a giant one made of soap.

This past Friday, about 60 early childhood students of Berkshire County Head Start got to participate in a science experiment day held at their school by women professionals from Sabic Innovative Plastics.

"This is our practice for Third Thursday," said Sandra Lanning, senior sales development leader at Sabic.

On Aug. 15, Sabic and the Berkshire STEM Pipeline Network are partnering with Pittsfield Third Thursdays to present a street festival with a "Weird Science" theme.

Sabic employees presented two experiments for the Head Start students and staff: How to make ice cream with liquid nitrogen gas and how to create a bubble solution strong enough to stretch a soap film over the height of a human body.

Making ice cream was simplified when Lanning and Mary Lou Trezcinka, a product specialist for Sabic, combined a liquid base of cream, sugar and local vanilla extract from Charles H. Baldwin & Sons in West Stockbridge, with liquid nitrogen gas.

When the liquid nitrogen hits the ice cream base, it has freezing properties equivalent to about minus 320 to 323 degrees Fahrenheit. The Head Start kids pointed and some shrieked as it created a thick but temporary plume of cool vapor caused by rapid temperature change and evaporation.

The result: A creamy batch of homemade ice cream with no preservatives or binding agents.

During the demonstration, students were encouraged by adults to ask questions and make observations. The kids didn't hold back, asking everything from "What is nitrogen?" to "Can I have sprinkles?"

After the ice cream experiment, Sabic employees Melissa Balmer, an environmental health, safety and security engineer and analyst, and global financial development leader Brenda Manarchik helped students make giant soap bubbles.

They mixed a solution of distilled water, Dawn dish soap, liquid glycerin and commercial bubble solution in a kiddy pool with a step stool standing in the center of a hula hoop. They then took volunteers from the audience to stand on the step stool while Balmer used the hoop as a wand to pull a giant soap film around the body of the participant. More giggles and squeals of delight ensued.

Balmer said she's been doing science ever since she was a kid and went to a special science magnet school in her home state of Florida.

"There were always so many cool activities all around me. It made me look at the world and the things we use and wonder how people came up with the ideas for them. That's the fun of it. There are always new ideas in science," Balmer said.

During the August Third Thursday, Sabic and Berkshire STEM Pipeline volunteers will lead these science experiments as well as activities like farming with worms, Play-Doh sculpting, making glow-in-the-dark slime and more.

The StarLab portable planetarium from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts will be open to the public and music from the Mad Scientist Jazz Ambassadors and others can be heard.

"If kids realize that science involves fun things -- from ice cream to bubbles to the toys they play with -- then they'll want to learn more about it," Lanning said.


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