Science Friday? Tallahassee Is In For A Science Weekend

Feb 14, 2013

The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee's Innovation Park
Credit Thomas Andrew Gustafson

The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee is something you’d expect the cartoon kid-scientist Dexter to own. Three story high ceilings with plenty of caution signs, foot-thick wires and massive humming machines: all the tell-tale signs of scientists at work. And on Saturday, it will be showcasing some interesting experiments at its annual open house this Saturday.

Tim Murphy is one of the people overseeing the MagLab, and for Saturday only, a potato cannoneer. He says, science can be fun and kooky, and that’s what the MagLab is trying to show.

“What got me interested in science when I was a kid was taking things apart, and I know we can’t do it anymore but blowing things up, but it’s to show kids that it’s really accessible, it’s not just math, you can do a lot of really cool stuff with it.” Says Murphy.

The MagLab, working with the highest-powered magnets in the nation, has become well-known over the years for its emphasis toward education. Beyond the annual open house, the Lab hosts learning programs through the year.

“During the summer there are programs for both undergraduate students, there are programs for teachers, there are summer camps for grade school and junior high kids, and then also during the year there are tour after tour after tour of kids coming through here from the local schools.” Says Murphy.

And plenty of experiments will be on display: for instance – have you ever seen a quarter shrink to the size of a dime? Murphy says, you start with a wire wrapped around the coin. Attach that to a giant capacitor changed with high voltage.

“So when you fire this and connect the capacitor to the coil the intense magnetic field going from zero to very high field quickly causes the quarter to go to the size of a dime.” Says Murphy.

That’s just one of about 80 science demonstrations visitors can watch or try out for themselves. The MagLab won’t be the only open house on the block. Nearby, in Innovation Park, the Center for Advanced Power Systems and the High-Performance Materials Institute will also be open on Saturday with displays of their own. All three labs will be open from ten to three in the afternoon. And if you get hungry, there’ll be a few food trucks parked nearby.