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Pacific Science Center presents at elementary


Jacob Wagner

Foam packing peanuts fly through the air from a static electric charge made by the Van de Graaf generator, much to the delight of children, at a presentation made by the Pacific Science Center Aug. 2 at Lake Roosevelt.

"Jolts & Volts." That's the name of the presentation that was put on Aug. 2 by the Pacific Science Center to about 50 kids at the Lake Roosevelt Elementary School.

Katie Wellens of the Pacific Science Center in Seattle made the presentation on electricity, explaining atoms, protons, neutrons, circuits, lightning, types of energy, and more.

Wellens demonstrated with a small Tesla coil, invented by Nikola Tesla in 1891, how electricity can be conducted through the air without wires. A fluorescent light bulb, which isn't connected to a socket or anything, lit up simply by holding the bulb near to the Tesla coil. She explained that the small Tesla coil, taking in 120 volts from a socket to run, generates 5,000 volts.

Wellens also made a demonstration with a Van de Graaf generator, invented by Robert J. Van de Graaff in 1929, which traps positively charged protons inside of a metal ball. Wellens explained that the positively charged protons are attracted to negatively charged electrons, and not attracted to each other, and so, being trapped together inside the metal ball, are dying to get out. By putting a smaller metal ball filled with negatively charged particles close to the bigger ball, the positive protons are then able to escape, creating a luminescent blue spark.

Experiments with the Van de Graaf generator included Wellens putting packing peanuts on top of the device and demonstrating that the spark generated could send them flying into the air, much to the delight of the children. A volunteer from the audience placed her hand on the device and her hair started to stand on end.

Wellens explained that our bodies, made mostly of water, are also capable of conducting electricity. By having volunteers touch hands in a circle while holding a device, the device powered up and played a song; when they broke the circuit by not touching hands, the device stopped.

The children all appeared amused by the experiments, and learned about electricity in the process.

The event was sponsored by the North Central Regional Library system, as well as Grant PUD. The Pacific Science Center makes presentations in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana.

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