Magical science on display at St. Johns fair

Lincoln Soltau shows how to dissect an owl pellet. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
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St. Johns was seeing light, bubbling wizards, zapping plasma balls and dissecting owl pellets.

All in the name of science. 

“This isn’t really magic — it’s science,” said Elsa Eickhoff, adding the baking soda to her Bubbling Wizards’ Brew science fair project as she stood before parents and grandparents who visited St. Johns Parochial School in Wykoff last Friday evening to witness science in action during the first-ever St. Johns National Lutheran Schools Week science fair. 

Eickhoff, a student in Susan Nash’s first and second grade class, illustrated how to make her brew, pouring vinegar, food coloring, glitter and some dish soap into a glass, then saving the baking soda for last. 

“You mix in the baking soda, and it makes carbon dioxide, and the pressure makes it explode,” she explained. “It’s a chemical reaction of vinegar and baking soda.  The dish soap is for foam.” 

Classmate Ben Frazer showed fair attendees how they could see light differently with his project entitled Seeing Light, a black-lined cardboard frame with a light set in the corner to shine through a prism. 

“The light slows down through the prism, and it separates the colors and makes a rainbow,” he said.

Fellow Nash student Lincoln Soltau had some teeny-tiny things to show off as his science fair project, as he is very interested in owls and their habits.  His demonstration focused on what’s inside an owl pellet, or that neatly self-contained packet which owls gak up when they can’t digest something. 

“I found a skull, some bones, feathers, fur, all the stuff that they can’t really digest,” he said. “I like owls because I’m not quiet, but they’re quiet, and my dad has a barn across the road so I can see if there are any great horned owls out there.  Owls don’t have waterproof feathers, so they don’t fly when it’s raining, so they live in their holes and just nest right there.”

Around the corner, upper elementary student Dylan Schultz had some zapping to do — his friends, his fingers, a lightbulb, his teachers. 

“This is my plasma ball.  I made a board and a PowerPoint about it,” he said. “The plasma ball was invented by Nikola Tesla, and it’s called a ‘Tesla coil.’” 

Schultz outlined that the electrons in the ball, when it’s plugged in, spin and shake so very quickly that they fall off the coil.  He went on to cite that normally, electric currents are in beams, but the noble gases that surround the coil react to the current, and that the partial vacuum inside the ball makes the currents visible. 

“If I touch the ball, a strand is attracted to my finger, and then it finds a ground.  Normally, the electrons repel each other….” he said.

He handed a small fluorescent lightbulb to people who wanted to know what his project was about, then he took the other end of the bulb and put his other hand on the plasma ball. 

“The bulb lights up – that shows how the electrons are going through the plastic ball.  It conducts through people to the bulb and then to the other person because electrons are always looking for a ground,” said Schultz. “If I put this penny on the ball, it grabs the electrons, but if I put another penny on the first penny, it sparks because they’re both conductors.  The electrons jump to the other penny.”

Nash observed that the post-polar vortex event was a good outing for the students, as they’d had almost the entire week to work on their projects, and it seemed that it was a good outing for the community as well; the fair drew curiosity and questions from the attendees, garnering an opportunity for students to show their knowledge and own curiosity about what’s magic and what’s science.