Getting Hands-On with Science: Open House 2016

October 10, 2016

Professor Marc Spiegelman has a favorite saying at Open House: “Clean hands are not learning hands!”

By that measure and the smiles on faces, we had a lot of very happy learners on Saturday as Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory invited the public to campus for a day of hands-on science experiments, demonstrations, and conversations with some of the world’s leading scientists in the Earth, environmental, and climate sciences.

Three thousand visitors toured the labs and crowded around demonstrations, often jumping in to help, as you’ll see in the photo slideshow below. They simulated volcanic eruptions, listened to earthquakes, and examined tiny fossils through microscopes in the Core Repository. The Dyhrman Lab brought out a rainbow of microscopic phytoplankton and explained why, when you take a breath, you should thank an oxygen-producing phytoplankton. Spiegelman used a bathtub filled with a cornstarch concoction to show how rocks inside the Earth could be both flowing and solid, viscous and brittle. (Watch his demo in the video above.)

Scientists also led geology tours on campus and a dendro eco-hike to explore Lamont’s forest history through tree-ring analysis. And they led a series of talks about the latest research on topics including extreme weather, the planet’s changing ice, and earthquakes (links to watch those talks are below).

The Core Lab's microscopes and the microworld that comes to life through the lens were a big draw.John Park’s three children were excited about Ben Holtzman’s Seismic Sound Lab earthquake demo. The best part of Open House in Park’s view: "The interaction that the kids have with the different exhibits. The earthquake one was super cool; the one where you're in the room and you hear everything going around. I think the kids got a really good understanding – their senses were engaged at the same time they were understanding what actually is going on an earthquake."

"It's just an amazing opportunity to expose them to science, to have these hands-on experiments," said Dawn Cafer, whose 6-year-old son Lucas was running for the next demonstration tent.

“We had a magical time,” Noah Green wrote. “Thank you for getting our 6-year-old daughter excited about science.”

Up in Monell Auditorium, six of our leading scientists were giving talks about their latest projects and discoveries, each representing one of Lamont’s strategic initiatives. The presentation videos are all now available online to rewatch or, for those who were too busy getting their hands into Earth science experiments on Saturday, to see for the first time.

Watch the Open House science talks:

Tim Crone and Ryan Abernathey: Real-Time Earth: Realizing the Future of Earth Science

Donna Shillington: Anticipating Earthquakes

Suzana Camargo: Hurricanes and Typhoons: Past, Present and Future

Robin Bell: Exploring the Changing Ice

Park Williams: The Impact of Human-caused Warming on Drought and Fire in the Western United States

Grad student Daniel Rasmussen drew a big crowd for the volcano simulations. This one is a concoction of Mentos and Diet Coke.And the result of mixing Mentos and Coke in a volcano demo ... Daniel holds what was left of the Coke bottle after the Coke-and-Mentos eruption.We also put ping pong balls to the test to show the hurling power of volcanoes. Definitely an Open House fan favorite.Our future scientists in the Open House crowd got to create human-powered volcanic eruptions, too. Marc Spiegelman led another large crowd at Open House through a fan-favorite demonstration of how rocks inside the Earth can behave as liquid or solid. If he kept moving, he could dance on the mixture, but once he stopped moving, he sank right in.In the Seismology offices, the day was all about listening to earthquakes as they ring through the planet and watching what happens to the seismic waves.Anna Barth and a group of Boy Scouts looked for patterns in earthquake locations and sizes by watching years of eruptions compressed into a few minutes. The video they're watching is part of the Seismic Sound Lab's SeismoDome project.Paul Richards led tours of our seismology museum, where some early seismometers -- many of them designed at Lamont -- and other monitoring devices reside. Our modern seismic equipment was also on display. We build ocean bottom seismometers like this one that are used all over the world to monitor movement beneath the seafloor.The Lamont Core Lab was another favorite, with visitors lined up out the door. Billy D'Andrea shows young guests how scientists use deep-sea sediment cores to learn about climates in the past.Today's young scientists came with great questions about the Earth, and our graduate students and staff scientists were ready to answer them.Microfossils play important roles in understanding ocean and climate history. Yael Kiro sets up a microscope for a young visitor.There was plenty for adults at Open House as well, from the Core Lab's collections to scientific talks by some of the world's leading experts in the Earth sciences. Phytoplankton have a rainbow of pigments that help collect sunlight and keep our planet habitable. Dyhrman Lab showed them off at Open House and reminded guests: "Take a breath, thank a phytoplankton." By dunking balloons and releasing the air, we saw how scientists can use air bursts underwater to image structures beneath the seafloor. And of course we had to share the fun of survival suits. It was an all around exciting day at Open House. Thanks to everyone who joined us! We're looking forward to the next one!

Media Inquiries: 
Marie DeNoia Aronsohn