NMC Makes Waves at Los Alamos Science Fest! 

NMC Makes Waves at Los Alamos Science Fest! 

NMC Makes Waves at Los Alamos Science Fest! 

John Engen and Carrie Talus at the NMC booth.

The New Mexico Consortium (NMC) booth at the Los Alamos Science Fest‘s Discovery Day made waves by featuring both a wave machine and a sunspot viewer to get the public excited about science! Both of these devices were a huge hit with kids and families attending the event. Thousands of people come to Los Alamos for Science Fest, which celebrates New Mexico’s past and present contributions to science and fosters science curiosity for future generations, and the NMC booth was surrounded by participants the entire day.

This year’s Discovery Day featured hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) demonstrations by local and regional businesses and organizations, and took place 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, July 8 at Ashley Pond Park in Los Alamos.

Kyle shows onlookers the wave machine!

The NMC booth was manned this year by NMC CEO John Engen, Science Content and Outreach Specialist Carrie Talus, Research Administrator Alicia Smith, NMC Scientist Sean Fu and summer undergraduate student researcher Kyle Yu.

Dr. Fu works on electromagnetic waves in space, including whistler waves in the Earth’s magnetosphere and Alfven waves in the solar wind, supported by NSF grants. Kyle is an undergraduate student in the Department of Physics at University of Texas at Austin. This summer he is working with Dr. Fu on the whistler wave project.

The wave machine was built by Kyle and John Kang, a high school student of Los Alamos High School who was not able to make it to Science Fest. It was made out of wood skewers and gummy bears to demonstrate to the public the physics of a wave! Because all the skewers are linked together, when energy is added to the system by tapping one skewer, it is transferred along the length of the model through a wave. The gummy bears make it easy to see the wave.

Kyle explaining how the wave machine works.

They demonstrated to the crowd that by watching the gummy candy you can see the amplitude and wavelength. The kids learned that by adding more energy to the system (tapping it harder), this will cause the amplitude (height of the wave) to increase. If they moved the skewer up and down faster, the wavelength (distance between the wave peaks) would get smaller! Also, the speed of the wave can also be adjusted by adjusting the location of the gummy bears; placing the gummy bears closer together resulted in a faster wave. By adjusting the gummy bears for half of the wave machine, the kids could see waves traveling at different speeds, depending on what half of the machine the waves were on.

The NMC booth also featured a sunspot viewer, which was set up to project an image of the sun in order to view sunspots. Carrie and Alicia took turns teaching interested kids that sunspots are temporary disturbances on the sun’s magnetic field and can be as big as the Earth or even larger!  Kids learned that sunspots are like “hurricanes on the sun” and are called “solar storms” or “solar flares”. These storms come and go like earth weather, sometimes lasting days, sometimes weeks.

Carrie and Alicia in front of the sunspot viewer!

Besides viewing the projection of the sun, kids could mark down the sunspots on their own index card. They also learned that since we are almost at the max of the Solar Cycle, the sun has more sunspots than usual!

Saturday was a fun day of science outreach with the public, which is at the core of the mission of the New Mexico Consortium. Besides outreach events such as Science Fest, the NMC supports internships, summer camps, student presentations, and summer research programs.

Besides teaching about science, the NMC booth also answered questions about the NMC and handed out various NMC swag. Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s Los Alamos Science Fest!



Top photo: NMC scientist Sean Fu and summer student Kyle Yu show a young participant how to make waves!