Science Behind the Scenes Part 2
Extreme Science Demonstrations
May 25, 2022
What's your favorite show to do and why?
I like combustion for the "wow" factor. It's also the concept that people are most familiar with, and I always get a lot of good engagement and interesting questions afterward. I once had a 7-year-old ask me where the fire came from, and explaining thousands of years of evolution and human ingenuity to a second grader is a lot harder than it sounds.
What safety precautions do you take before a show?
I always wear eye protection, a flame-retardant lab coat, and closed-toed shoes. If I'm working with combustible liquids or liquid nitrogen, I take off any bracelets or other jewelry. You don't want to get liquid nitrogen stuck against your skin or any fabric wet with combustibles. People often ask why we don't wear gloves when working with liquid nitrogen if it's so cold. This is because of something known as the Leidenfrost Effect, which is one of my favorite things to demonstrate. Liquid nitrogen is constantly turning into a gas when exposed to room temperature conditions, and therefore has a protective "cushion" of gas around it. This cushion of gas allowed the supercool liquid to skate and coast off surfaces like skin and tile. However, being a liquid, it will soak into fabrics and become trapped against the skin, which (as you may imagine) isn't very pleasant. So, no gloves.
How do you get ready for a show?
I need to make sure I have all the materials I need in the 20 minutes I get to prep for a show. This means measuring, pouring, filling balloons, and making sure we're not running low on anything. Of course, preparing my stage presence is part of that. I like to think I've heard every zany comment or odd question, but I'm still surprised sometimes. "How" questions are infinitely easier to answer than "why" questions.
Have you always loved doing science?
In a way, yes. I've always been insatiably curious about the world around me. I turned over every rock, learned the name of every bird, climbed the trees and dug up the earth in my search to understand. My mom heard a lot of "Why's that?" And "How come?" When I was little. As I got older I expanded that love for the natural world, mainly biology and environmental sciences. Life on this planet is complex and varied in ways you can't even imagine. There's always something new waiting to be discovered. So whenever parents tell me they see the same curiosity in their little ones, I tell them to encourage it. Answer those questions with, "I'm not sure, but let's figure it out together." It might feel like, as adults, we should know everything and offer our wisdom and experience to the little ones, but I'll be the first to admit it when I don't know something. It's ok not to know! Figuring it out is the fun part.
If you could program a robot to do any chore for you, what would it be?
Folding laundry, hands-down. I feel like there are a dozen other things I could be doing. I can't stand repetitive menial tasks, which I'm sure isn't an uncommon sentiment to have.