WILMINGTON — From heating an ordinary nail to 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit to showing the screechy effects of carbon dioxide (dry ice) cooled to nearly 110 degrees below zero, the annual Science and Technology Fair at the Wilmington Middle School offered seventh-graders a tantalizing look at physics.
They also had an overview of some basic tools that support life in the 21st century.
Analog Devices Inc. has hosted the fair for 18 years and has been a partner with the Wilmington schools for more than 20 years. The company has its headquarters in Wilmington, relocating from Norwood last summer.
This year approximately 50 current and retired engineers from the company came to the school. Their goal was to bring science and technology to life for seventh-graders.
The fair is intended to be as hands-on as possible. Demonstrations and activities included battery-powered electrical wiring, shortwave radios, power tools, and integrated circuits. Analog Devices is a leading manufacturer of integrated circuits.
At one table, engineer Larry DeVito drew oohs and aahs as he conducted his experiment. Placing a nail between two transformer arms, he ensured the transformer had a tight grip on it. Then, he switched on the power. The nail turned slowly red before erupting into a high-intensity glow. It seemed to spew sparks at first, but observers learned that those sparks were really drops of liquid iron. Finally, the nail snapped.
At another table, engineer Josh Libby placed a small cube of dry ice — smaller than a sugar cube — onto his table.
Then, he took a small metal spoon and brushed the top of the cube. Even with a light touch, the cube emitted an otherworldly sound.
Just inside the door to the demo area, girls and boys were handling power tools — some for the first time. Chuck Kitchin, who is a retired Analog Devices engineer and now a volunteer in the school’s science program, said that many students lack exposure to tools like these.
According to Kitchin, parents are often too busy for do-it-yourself projects around the house so their children are unfamiliar with basic tools.
Standing near the entrance to the demo area, Analog retiree Jonathan Pearson picked at an electric guitar. As three seventh-grade boys came near him, he stopped them with a question about their interest in technology. He gave them a short lesson on sound engineering. He showed an oscilloscope measuring the amplitude of the sound from the guitar. The sounds are transferred to an amplifier which to make them stronger.
Students took part in a fact-finding competition, moving from table-to-table carrying worksheets with questions they had to answer. The rules of the competition are similar to a scavenger hunt, but the students collect answers to questions, not tangible items.
Although the fiery, liquid nail drew some excitement, DeVito said he gets very few questions about the experiment. He doesn’t like to give a lecture on the subject, but “if a kid asks a question, then I know they’re interested and they’ll listen to answers. It’s all about the questions.”
Not every student was excited by the fair’s activities. Caitlin Weinstein, a program manager for Analog Devices and who was helping at the table devoted to batteries and magnets, pointed out a young boy sketching a battery and said, “You can tell he’s really interested.”