Lock the windows and turn up the gas, it’s time for the annual California State University, Channel Islands, Science Carnival, where anything and everything is possible (within the laws and confines of science).
The hands-on carnival, with a “spooky science” theme, gives students from pre-kindergarten to the eighth grade an opportunity to interact using all five senses with the core STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) through demonstrations and experiments, such as the “banana piano,” which utilizes electric currents, and gummi bears that “scream” when dropped into molten potassium chlorate. A real crowd pleaser, says carnival founder Phil Hampton, Ph.D., professor of chemistry at CSUCI.
Other acts will include demonstrating “how a chemist carves a pumpkin,” said Hampton, involving pumpkins filled with acetylene gas that explode into grinning jack-o-lanterns, and crowds will be awed as a mechanical, computer-controlled arm plays Jenga.
New this year: special VIP Scientists. Each middle and elementary school in Oxnard will select three students for the privilege, giving each of the students the opportunity to wear a lab coat and badge and ride along with professionals during the carnival.
Hampton launched the carnival in 2009, when it attracted 250 visitors. In 2015, attendance ballooned to over 2,200 and is expected to top 2,600 this year, as well as utilizing around 300 volunteers running hands-on activities and logistics.
Hampton says that the carnival is an opportunity to show that science can be “fun.”
“Far too often, in the classroom, students are taught science from the perspective of teaching to a test. What gets lost in the process is the process of discovery, inquiry and excitement,” said Hampton. “The Science Carnival is really geared to be an event where kids get to see exciting fun things and learn in the process, with the primary focus on having fun and learning science at the same time.”
Funding for the event comes in part from Project ACCESO, a U.S. Department of Education grant for Hispanic-serving institutions designed to enhance CI’s ability to support its students in STEM majors and to build a pipeline for preK-12 students and community college students who may be interested in STEM majors.
In 2015, STEM Funders Network, a nationwide initiative devoted to creating STEM learning opportunities for students from pre-school to college, declared Ventura County a STEM Ecosystem, in part due to the Science Carnival, which, Hampton says, puts the county on the same level as the entire state of Oregon and cities like Philadelphia and Boston.
The 2016 Science Carnival is a free event and will be held on Saturday, Nov. 5, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School, 2900 Thurgood Marshall Drive, Oxnard. For more information, visit www.csuci.edu/sciencecarnival.