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Exploring the magic of science

Like any good magician, chemical engineering professor Richard Register allowed his audience to inspect his props – a plastic cup, a tiny scoop of white powder, and a container of water – before beginning his routine. Register added the powder to the cup and poured in some water, nearly filling the cup to its brim. Moments later, when the powder soaked up the water, forming a dense gel, he held the cup upside down and began explaining the properties that enabled the powder, an absorbent polymer called sodium polyacrylate, to do its impressive work. Sodium polyacrylate has several uses in commercial products, he added, most notably in diapers.

Register’s audience, in this case, was a cluster of wide-eyed middle school students attending Princeton’s Science and Engineering Expo (SEE) March 22. The program, now in its fourth year, attracts about 1,000 students from local schools who learn about interesting applications of biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering from faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, and experts from industry and other universities. Daniel Steinberg, the outreach director for the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials, said that the expo aims to “reinvigorate” an interest in the sciences that sometimes wanes during students’ middle school years.

At the 50 tables, or “exploration stations,” inside Dillon Gymnasium, the students found plenty of hands-on examples of science and engineering at work. They carefully folded paper airplanes, trying to create designs that would stay in the air as long as possible (one student set the standard with a flight time of 7.68 seconds). They stood in their socks while measuring the coefficient of sliding friction of their sneakers. They built batteries powered by the acid of lemons, tasted ice cream made with the aid of liquid nitrogen, and saw models of the Mars rovers, courtesy of NASA’s educational outreach group. Students also visited Princeton laboratories. In the photo above, eighth-grader Janhavi Gawde, left, received tips from chemistry major Sebastian Urday ’08 while working on an experiment at Frick Lab.

PLOrk, the Princeton Laptop Orchestra, set up four laptops attached to a central bank of speakers at the Dillon Gym expo site – enough for a “chamber ensemble,” according to Ge Wang, a graduate student in computer science. PLOrk members stayed nearby to answer questions, but for the most part they let the tech-savvy youngsters make their own music. “We didn’t have to teach them much,” Wang said. “They just sit down and start jamming.”

Photo by Frank Wojciechowski
Back on the diamond

The Princeton baseball season reaches full swing this week as the Tigers begin their home schedule with a March 28 game against Rutgers and host Brown in a pair of doubleheaders to open the Ivy League season March 31 and April 1. Princeton already has played 14 games, all on the road. The Tigers were swept by Houston in three games, went 1-2 in three-game sets against Elon, UNC-Greensboro, and Longwood, and picked up another win in two games at Davidson.

Princeton, the defending Ivy champion, returns four pitchers who have significant experience as starters in league games: Christian Staehely ’08, Eric Walz ’07, Gavin Fabian ’07, and Michael Zaret ’07. Catcher Sal Iacono ’07 (.411 batting average, 13 runs batted in) and left fielder Greg Van Horn ’10 (.388 batting average, 15 runs scored) have led Tigers at the plate so far this year.

More at PAW Online
Under the Ivy – It’s the bicentennial of the Great Riot of 1807; Gregg Lange ’70 describes what happened in his Princeton history column.
On the Campus – P.G. Sittenfeld ’07 writes that for some students, February meant Mardi Gras in New Orleans; for others it meant ice skating on Lake Carnegie.