Science Day brings potential students, explosions to the U

By Katie Valentine , Staff Writer

Hundreds of high school students spent Saturday at a recruitment event with explosions, armored exoskeletons and college advice.

The U’s annual Science Day gives high school students an opportunity to come to the campus and learn about the subject and the opportunities to study it here. The free event started 21 years ago and invites high school students, parents and teachers from Utah and southern Idaho. This year, students from Montana and Texas were also in attendance.

The goal of the U’s largest recruitment day is to get students on campus and show them how science and technology can change their lives, said Pierre Sokolsky, dean of the College of Science.

There were 31 workshops that the at least 875 students, parents and teachers who attended could choose from. During the welcome, Stephen Jacobsen, a mechanical engineering professor, brought an armored exoskeleton to demonstrate.

Jacobsen, who founded the engineering company Sarcos in 1983 at the U, brought the armored exoskeleton they developed to show the students science at work. It allows the person wearing it to lift heavy weights without breaking a sweat8212;essentially granting super strength.

At one of the workshops, “Explosives and Explosions,” taught by Graduate College Dean Chuck Wight, attendees learned what causes explosions in real life. Wight explained the explosive properties of hydrogen and oxygen when mixed and lit by fire. To make a recent real-life illustration, a hydrogen leak combined with oxygen came into contact with fire at a Woods Cross refinery Wednesday and caused an explosion, Wight said.

Wight started with a demonstration using a candle. He explained that the smoke from the candle, when blown out, is not actually smoke, but wax trailing off. If the wax is lit, the flame jumps back to the wick. Wight warned his audience against trying his other demonstrations at home.

“I have a bomb; let’s see if we can set it off,” Wight said.

The bomb was a combination of methane and air in a paint can. Methane escaping from a hole at the top of the can was lit and slowly burned down into the can. As the oxygen came in a hole at the base of the can, it mixed with the methane and when the flame reached the inside of the can, an explosion occurred.

A high school student from the front of the room asked if it was going to be loud.

“Sure, it’s an explosion,” Wight said. The class jumped at the ensuing bang.

Tim Kowalchik, a sophomore at Bountiful High School, said he likes explosions, so he made sure to register for that workshop. He said he plans on going to the U and majoring in engineering.

Carol Kowalchik, Tim Kowalchik’s mother, said she signed her son up for Science Day so he could spend time on campus while still in high school.

McCall Sirstins and Emily Shelton, both juniors at Brighton High School, said they were offered extra credit from their physics teacher for coming to Science Day.

“I’m not super into explosions,” Shelton said. “I’m excited about whales.”

So instead, they signed up for a class called “Whales That Don’t Want to be Seen,” taught by Jon Seger, a biology professor.

Simone Bateman, a senior at Brighton High School, was admitted to the U a couple of weeks ago. She said she wanted to come to Science Day to learn what her future school’s chemistry professors are researching.

Science day ended at 1:30 p.m. with lunch, which included a drawing for six $500 scholarships.

In past years, the day has lasted until 4 p.m. It was cut down to be more entertaining for students, said Lisa Batchelder, academic program coordinator for the College of Science.

Event information given to students in years past used to be handed out on fliers, but this year, all the information was put on mailed-out flash drives to save on costs and be more sustainable, Batchelder said.

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Richard Payson/The Daily Utah Chronicle

High school students gather in the Union Ballroom on Saturday for Science Day, which allows students to learn about subjects at the U.