By Linda A Lucchetti
In November, retired Lab engineer Nick Williams and Discovery Center coordinator Diane Nelson bundled up in heavy winter coats and warm hats, boarded a total of nine airline flights and traveled some 5,500 miles — all in the name of science. Their mission: to take the Lab’s ‘Fun with Science’ show on the road to students living in Alaska.
Fun with Science is a unique presentation of interactive, hands-on experiments and demonstrations developed to introduce basic science principles and spark interest in young students.
For more than a decade, Fun with Science has been a show-stopper with students who visit the Discovery Center as part of a field trip program. Coordinated through the Lab’s Public Affairs Office, the program has even been presented outside of Livermore at several science festivals in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. But, for Williams and Nelson, bringing Fun with Science to villages in Alaska was truly an adventure.
Both Williams and Nelson work for Akima, LLC – the Lab’s vendor for supplemental labor that funded the trip. Akima has a strong connection to Alaska because it is part of the NANA Regional Corporation Inc. that is comprised of 11 villages located in Northwest Alaska.
During a visit to the NANA region, Norma Hinds, Akima’s general manager at the Lab, was introduced to B-WISE (Business Working in School Environments), a program that connects NANA companies with schools in the region. She suggested that the program partner with the Lab to bring “Fun with Science” to the villages.
To prepare for the program, materials and equipment – 14 boxes total – were packed up and shipped from Livermore for Williams and Nelson to use in their array of science experiments in Noorvik and Selawik, villages in the far north region of Alaska. Four programs were presented for grades K through 12 at each of the two schools in both villages reaching more than 400 students.
There are no roads in or out of Noorvik and Selawik, Williams explained, so “the kids know that when anyone brings a program to them it’s going to be special. ”
Williams and Nelson learned a lot about the nation’s 49th state with its beautiful mountainous terrain, and the Alaskan people during their seven-day visit in November when ice cold temperatures hovered around minus 10 degrees.
“What I will remember is the excitement on the faces of every student, when we conducted the experiments,” Williams said.
“The students are very much like any other kids in America, but very secluded,” Nelson said about the remote villages. “We saw that the school itself is an important meeting place for residents — children and adults who gather there to socialize. And, everyone was gracious and friendly.”
“I think we gave these kids an opportunity to witness science experiments that they, quite possibly, will never have another chance to see since they stay in the same school from kindergarten through 12th grade. We were told that there is no budget for equipment for these types of experiments,” Williams added.
‘Most of the children there never travel outside of their village and do not have exposure to the things children in the lower 48 states have in school or the outside world, so this program was of great educational value to them,” Hinds said. “The program gave them an opportunity to experience science in a fun way and planted a seed of excitement about the value of continuing education.” “This was an invaluable learning opportunity for these children and extremely appreciated by the teachers, parents and children,” Hinds added.
Because of its success, Hinds reports that Fun with Science may be repeated for at least two additional schools in other villages — but this time, in the slightly warmer weather of spring.