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One messy day

Iowa Life

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Library event allows kids to experiment

By Brent Griffiths, The Gazette

IOWA CITY — The Pedestrian Mall’s brick walkway was covered with a “non-Newtonian fluid.”

Oobleck, a white mixture of water and cornstarch, oozed onto the area near the Iowa City Public Library. Blots of blue and pink punctuated the disarray, but all the aftereffects were intended.

It was a clear sign “Messy Science Day” was in progress Saturday in downtown Iowa City

“I like laying on my belly in the slime,” said Carl Westermann, 6.

University of Iowa graduate student Sally Kessler organized the event in collaboration with the library. She said filling up a kids swimming pool with oobleck and pouring it over stereo speakers is crucial to continuing science education.

“(We) want to make sure they realize science is a part of everyday and not just put it on the shelf in the summer,” Kessler said.

Kessler also operates the local branch of Chemists in the Library. The group is focused on illustrating chemistry to young kids.

“We want (the kids) to stay unafraid to experiment at this age,” she said.

The Ped Mall’s pavement wasn’t the only object covered in the goo. Participants’ T-shirts, pants, shoes, hands and faces were caked with remnants from the “experiments.” Luckily, a volunteer manned a garden hose for cleanup and parents did their best to clean up the last few difficult spots.

Participants quickly learned there was more to the activities than just making a mess.

“If you run, you can stay on top, but if you go very slow, you start to sink,“ said Nora Cole, 6.

The secret to non-Newtonian fluid, whose name is sometimes credited to Dr. Seuss’ “Bartholomew and the Oobleck,” is the matter reacts differently to fast versus slow movements.

Exploring science at a level not possible in other places, or at least preferred, was one of the main attractions for participants.

“We would have enough water, but not enough cornstarch to fill up our pool,” said Daniel Kenyon, 6.

As for the size of the mess, Daniel and his brother, Edward, 8, had a one-word response about if they could do something similar at home.

“No,” the two said smiling.

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