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Sparking Curiosity: Science Day lights the fires of imagination
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Victoria High School student Anna Kuhn adds sodium chloride (table salt) to water to test its conductiviity, in a chemistry experiment during Jack Kilby Science Day. - photo by Susan Thacker


First came a sizzle/whoosh!, like a firework launching into the air. That was followed by the sound of running feet, as two high school students came around the Fine Arts Building.

"Did you see where our rocket landed?"

Approximately 600 Kansas high school students and their science teachers descended on Barton Community College on Tuesday for the college’s seventh-annual Jack Kilby Science Day. They could compete in math and science competitions, or listen to short lectures and demonstrations on a variety of topics. Dr. John Simmons, from Barton’s biology department, welcomed the morning participants, introducing keynote speaker Bret Mahoney, academic networking coordinator for Science Museum Oklahoma.

In the afternoon, more than 1,000 students in grades 5 through 8 would also hear Mahoney, whose interactive science presentations had kids laughing and learning at the same time.

"I’m almost like a science cheerleader," Mahoney said. "I get kids revved up so their teachers can take the reins."

Mahoney had students dissect frozen water balloons, using food coloring to discover patterns in the ice. In this inquiry-based science exercise, he said, students ask the questions that determine what they will discover.

"The coolest thing about this is keeping the legacy of Jack Kilby alive," Simmons said. Kilby’s 1958 invention of the integrated circuit — the microchip — is at the heart of modern electronic marvels. Kilby, who received the Nobel Prize in physics in 2000, also invented the handheld calculator and the thermal printer. He grew up in Great Bend, where he graduated from Great Bend High School in 1941. He died June 20, 2005, at the age of 81, but not before seeing Barton’s first Jack Kilby Science Day.

"Jack told us, ‘Keep it fun,’ and that’s what we constantly strive to do," Simmons said. "As evidenced by the enthusiasm today, Jack would be proud."

Sparking young imaginations sometimes involved actual sparks, as seen by the wayward rocket that landed without incident. At "Chemistry Magic," one of the dozens of possible sessions offered to students, Barton science instructor Guy Causey had students mixing compounds and creating a small volcano. "You have to be a bit of a pyro to study chemistry," Causey said.

In fact, not all of the science involved explosions. Aubrey Alcorn, a student from Claflin High School, said she attended sessions on wind energy and soils. "Everything was pretty interesting." After a morning of learning, students were treated to pizza in the Kirkman Center. As a Barton jazz band played, students could also look at booths featuring some of the programs offered at the college.