By Dave Smith
Cascading clouds, shooting smoke, flowing foam and laser lights are all cool to be sure. But not many people know about the science behind the light shows and bubbling vapor.
But if physicist and Cool Science Executive Director Marc Straub gets his way, more area students will learn how science, engineering, technology and math are not boring and out of reach — and that it takes a creative mind to solve perplexing scientific problems.
Cool Science is a local, volunteer-based nonprofit organization founded in 2001 to engage students about the wonders of science that are observable in everyday life. The group travels to area schools and events, giving demonstrations that are both hands-on and educational. Cool Science presents about 350 programs each year.
“We do things so kids think science is cool, so they will pursue it on their own,” Straub said. “We usually don’t have to ask kids to come to our [event] table to learn science.”
During demonstrations, presenters aim to bring out experiments that combine surprise with a “wow” factor not typically associated with science projects. By experimenting beyond students’ expectations, the audience becomes excited and interested, which provides the opportunity to explain the science behind what took place. Scientists, physicists and chemists are among the presenters performing experiments and are able to provide answers to questions at almost any level.
Cool Science had to reinvent itself after its largest supporter, Intel, left town, taking its funding and its large pool of volunteers with it.
While it used to conduct a day of science programs in schools featuring six programs running an entire day for kindergarten-through-fifth-grade students, the organization now provides mini-demonstrations that take up less time.
Operating on what Straub calls a ridiculously small budget, experiments are done using simple household items like balloons to encourage students to do projects of their own with items readily available at home.
Straub does it all by himself. He has a list of about 200 volunteers, with a dozen who are seriously committed. Volunteers — always in short supply — are critical to Cool Science’s success.
In addition to more volunteers, the group also seeks more money for future growth.
“We want to grow to be able to get into more schools. We have a limited reach because of our size. We need more engineering and science volunteers,” Straub said. “We love volunteers; we really need a core group of people. Part of the growth we need is to hire one more person.”
In addition to the science nights at schools the organization puts on two big events each year. One is the Big Cool Science Fest at Colorado College. The other is the Cool Science Kid’s Mini-Fruitcake Toss held in January.
Visit coolscience.org for more information.