The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 9, 2013

Franklin Institute presents 'scientific method' program

By Karen Blackledge
The Daily Item

— DANVILLE — With the help of student volunteers, a scientist from the Franklin Institute set out to discover why a paper cup full of water wasn’t burning.

Sarah Rowley, of the Philadelphia institute’s traveling science program, presented a “Scientific Method” assembly to eighth-graders Tuesday morning to rev them up for the Danville Middle School Science Fair on March 23. Other assemblies were held later in the day for sixth- and seventh-graders.

When Rowley first asked for volunteers, many hands shot in the air. “I have a lot of safety equipment to help me out. Do not try these at home. Do not try it at all,” Rowley said.

She had the first volunteer don a lab coat, goggles and gloves.

“It doesn’t really matter what you look like. You won’t be working with anything dangerous,” Rowley said as the girl shed the gear.

“Science is not a fashion statement. It doesn’t matter where you are from, how old you are and what you look like. With science all that matters is your approach,” she said.

Saying science is a process by which “we learn about the world around us,” she said, “I think it is best to go through the process.”

She started by applying a propane torch to a paper cup full of water that would not burn. “Fire is a tool and not a toy,” she as she turned on the torch.

She questioned students about why the paper cup didn’t catch fire.

Student Anton Haines, 14, helped with the next part of the experiment. He lowered a paper cup with water into liquid nitrogen, which is 320 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. “It’s so cold it can burn you if it touches you,” Rowley said.

She then had a volunteer show special paper, which reacted to the heat from her hand and changed color.

Rowley then got rid of the water in the paper cup and applied the torch again, this time burning the cup.

Saying more research was needed, Rowley soaked a $5 bill in a special chemical that kept it from getting hot enough to burn.

Again, flame was applied to the water-filled cup as student Aimi Lee Beaver, 14, read the Fahrenheit temperature every 20 seconds.

Paper burns at 451 degrees Fahrenheit and water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, Rowley said, so the paper would not burn as long as there was liquid in the cup and the water wouldn’t get any hotter than its boiling point.

Angie Storer, who is in charge of the science fair with Julie Kennedy, said the fair is voluntary with students doing the work at home. This will be the second time in a long while a science fair is being held on the middle-school level. Last year, 70 students entered. They choose whether to be competitive or exhibit. Trophies and monetary prizes are awarded.

A grant from Merck Cherokee paid for the assemblies and is paying for the science fair, organized by the home and school association.

This year’s fair will feature a visit from Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland.