About a thousand middle school students from central New Jersey will converge on Princeton University for the fifth annual Science and Engineering Expo from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 19.

Students will have the opportunity to discover the materials science behind chocolate pretzels, explore the wonders of superconductivity with floating magnets, contemplate the physics and physiology of yoga poses, watch glow-in-the-dark bacteria talk to each other, and investigate the chemistry of bubbles.

Dozens of high-powered researchers from Princeton and elsewhere will oversee hands-on activities and demonstrations that illustrate the connections between the everyday world and the fields of biology, chemistry, environmental science, engineering and materials science.

Science Expo '08

“When they are younger, kids are very excited about science but during middle school they tend to lose interest so this one day makes a huge difference,” said Daniel Steinberg, educational outreach director of the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials (PRISM). “This gives us an opportunity to capture their interest and prime them to continue to pursue the sciences in high school and beyond.”

The expo will be held at four locations on campus: McDonnell Hall, Dillon Gym, Frick Laboratory and Icahn Laboratory. Some expo highlights include:

The chemistry of bubbles. Antti-Pekka Hynninen from Athanassios Panagiotopoulos’s chemical engineering group at Princeton will be demonstrating the properties of surfactants, which are wetting agents used to lower the surface tension of liquids so that they spread easily. Surfactants are found in many everyday substances from paint and glue, to detergents and soap bubbles.

Floating magnets. Robert Cava, Russell Wellman Moore Professor of Chemistry at Princeton, will be demonstrating a superconducting material that his research group discovered.

The science behind sneakers, marble launchers, paper airplanes, and roller coasters. Students from Middlesex High School will be demonstrating for the middle school students the materials science they have learned through educational modules developed by the Princeton University Materials Academy (PUMA).

Energy transfer. Mansour Shayegan, professor of electrical engineering, will show students how to convert light into mechanical energy and into chemical energy and then back again.

Glow-in-the-dark bacteria, mutating zebrafish, and the anatomy of sheep brains. Molecular biology and psychology researchers at Princeton will give students a peek at zebrafish mutations under the microscope, demonstrate how glow-in-the-dark bacteria communicate with each other, and explore the functions of different brain regions by looking at sheep brains.

Polymers and slime. Rick Register, professor of chemical engineering and director of the Princeton Center for Complex Materials (PCCM), will use a hands-on activity with slime to teach students about the properties of polymers. Register will connect the experiments to real-world applications of polymer technology, such as his work to design lens implants that can correct for age-related vision loss.

Edible astronomy. Don Lubowich of Hofstra University will demonstrate the curvature of space with Pringles potato chips, radioactive dating with popcorn, lunar phases with Oreos, plate tectonics with peanut butter and jelly crackers, and the formation of the Galactic Disk with pizza.

Laser detection. Researchers from the Mid-Infrared Technologies for Health and the Environment Center based at Princeton will share their cutting-edge work with mid-infrared lasers in detecting substances that are invisible to other forms of light.

Yoga science. Yoga instructor Mecquel Geng will be demonstrating the physics and physiology behind yoga postures.

The materials science of chocolate pretzels. Foods are made up of complex and varied materials, and manufacturing large quantities of food products while meeting high standards for quality and safety is a very challenging engineering problem. To illustrate this, Kevin Dahm of Rowan University will present a demonstration on making chocolate-covered pretzels.

This expo is organized by Princeton’s Outreach Program Directors Dan Steinberg of PRISM and Ann Sliski of the Department of Molecular Biology. Members of the media who want more information prior to the day of the event should contact Shannon Swilley at 609-258-8830 or sswilley@princeton.edu. More information can be found on this website: http://www.princeton.edu/~pccm/outreach/seepress.htm.