Child scientists mad about winter-themed experiments
CRANBERRY TWP — “What happens when you touch dry ice with your bare hands?” 9-year-old Ben Sammon asked Sydney Widdersheim, an instructor with Mad Science of Pittsburgh’s Winter Wonderlab program.
“Ooh! Does anybody know?” Widdersheim asked a room full of children at Cranberry Township Municipal Center. “That’s a great question, Ben.”
“You get frostbite!” several children said.
“You get frostbite!” Widdersheim confirmed. “Can you get frostbite from anything else?”
She held a freezing chunk of dry ice, or solid CO2, in her glove as a long trail of vapor poured from it. She asked all children in the room to raise their hands if they thought they could, then to raise their hands if they thought they couldn’t.
“The noes are wrong,” she said. “The yeses are right. … What can you get frostbite from?”
“You can get it from snow,” said Alexa Sammon, age 6.
“Yeah! From being in the snow too long.”
Widdersheim led the room in a dazzling demonstration of one winter-themed experiment after another Wednesday night, managing a balance between learning and fun, with over a dozen small enthusiasts for an hour-and-a-half. The show featured suspension of colored oils into water, an egg slipping into a Florence flask from heated air pressure, a marshmallow bursting behind the safety of a bell jar and a deflating Styrofoam cup named Frosty.
“We’re going to go back, and I’m going to defrost a snowman,” Widdersheim said.
She poured acetone onto “Frosty,” melting him instantly into a puddle of polymers
“Whoa!” the room gasped. A brief lull swept the room.
When asked if that same liquid would melt a nearby egg named “Olaf,” who was too stout to reenter “his home,” Widdersheim showed the room that it did nothing — since eggs responded differently to the chemical than Styrofoam. Olaf’s “home,” she said, was actually the same flask that would soon fill with foam or “snow” once Olaf fled it.
Olaf took his name from the snowman who appeared along with Princesses Elsa and Anna in the popular Disney movie “Frozen.”
Widdersheim’s addition of dry ice, dish detergent and water would send the “snow” spilling from the flask, whose contents Widdersheim then shook and spread around the tables in the room. The small blizzard sparked surprised leaps from seats and laughter.
Even amid all the thundering energy and cascade of enthused answers, children listened and helped each other clean up later, with Alexa helping Ben find the trash can.
“We have a lot of fun,” Widdersheim said, as parents arrived to bring children home. “I’m a science nerd,” she added.