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April 3, 2019

Inspiring young scientists: Atmos hosts 108 second-graders

There was a little extra excitement at Atmos on Friday. In addition to hosting five prospective graduate students, the department welcomed 108 second-graders from Altitude Elementary in Aurora. Young minds delighted in scientific discovery as the children rotated through several stations designed to teach them about precipitation, air pollution, and weather and climate.

Noah Newman, outreach coordinator for the Colorado Climate Center, discussed the water cycle with the students and reviewed what they knew about the atmosphere and how it protects us. They finished the station with a hands-on demonstration on how meteorologists measure three forms of precipitation: rain, hail and snow.

“All of the students did really well with answering the questions I posed to the classes, and they had many good questions and comments of their own,” Newman said. “Overall, it was a really fun day.”

Volunteers from Fort Collins Atmospheric Scientists, or FORTCAST, agreed that interacting with the young guests was fun. FORTCAST, a local chapter of the American Meteorological Society (AMS), is composed of mostly graduate students from the Department of Atmospheric Science. FORTCAST presents hands-on science at events like those held by CSU’s Little Shop of Physics and at their own event, Weatherfest, in the summer.

FORTCAST volunteers Sean Freeman, Jennie Bukowski and Kyle Chudler ran several interactive demonstrations that enthralled the schoolkids. Bukowski exhibited how clouds form in the atmosphere using water, a plastic bottle, a bike pump and smoke particles from a match, creating a cloud in a bottle for the students to examine up close. The children answered questions about the importance of clouds and rain and were thrilled to test the particle counter themselves.

Chudler showed the group how different colors either reflect or absorb heat, as evidenced by sheets of white and black paper under a heat lamp, so the students could feel the difference for themselves. He then displayed an image of the Earth and asked the students which areas would absorb heat and which would reflect it. They were able to extrapolate that receding ice means less reflective surface area as it becomes darker, heat-absorbing ocean, thereby warming the planet.

Chudler wowed them when he demonstrated air pressure by placing a heated can in ice water. The children’s eyes and mouths opened wide in awe as an aluminum soda can instantly crumpled when a vacuum formed inside.

Inquisitive kids flocked to Freeman’s table to check out a drone, its camera, and an iPad displaying the camera’s view in real time. Students waved and mugged for the camera as Freeman explained how he and other atmospheric scientists use drones for research, flying them into clouds and storms to collect data. The children were able to view footage taken by the drone in flight.

At another station, research scientist Katie Benedict taught the students about air pollution. They learned about particles in the atmosphere and how our noses and lungs filter those particles and protect our bodies. Benedict explained how increased aerosol in the atmosphere affects our visibility as light is scattered. The class compared filters and images from normal, hazy and smoky days that illustrated this phenomenon. Research scientists Arsineh Hecobian and Amy Sullivan also led demonstrations of smells from volatile organic compounds and the use of chromatography to separate a mixture of chemicals, in this case water-soluble marker colors.

The visit culminated in a weather balloon launch and drone flight. Despite the dreary weather, the youngsters exclaimed in enthusiasm as the balloon was released, and more than 100 little faces watched intently as it drifted higher into the clouds until it was out of sight.

For the grand finale, drone pilot Sean Freeman gave a much-anticipated flight demo of the drone’s maneuvering capability and snapped a few aerial shots of the enrapt second-graders. The kids cheered as the drone settled back onto the ground. After a unified “thank you” on their teachers’ cue, the second-graders boarded their buses, likely taking with them lessons they won’t soon forget.

Department Head Jeff Collett, who coordinated the visit, echoed the thoughts of one student who, just before departing, was overheard telling her teacher that it had been the “best day ever!”

Students crowd around to mug for drone camera Jennie Bukowski demonstrates presence of invisible particles in air Kids test difference in temperature based on color Kids marvel at can crushed by escaping air pressure Students look to sky following balloon launch