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Experiences & experiments: Circus of Science wows local students

by Brandon RobertsWestern News
| January 12, 2009 11:00 PM

From the big top to school gymnasiums, the Circus of Science rolled into Libby on Thursday, wowing children and adults with experiences and experiments.

“Science is the best,” shouted Owen Cook, 8, while constructing an intricate gravity-aided marble run that stood taller than him.

Children ran about the Asa Wood Elementary gym molding magnets, creating Dixie-cup helicopters, laughing at themselves through the lens of special effects cameras and propelling coins into a spiraling descent. 

“Science is people trying to figure out stuff,” said second-grader Kevin Cox. “Like dinosaurs and meteorites. I think science is wicked.”

The Circus of Science is a product of the University of Montana’s SpectrUM program, which began as a traveling tent of scientific exhibits, a “museum without walls” before it found a home at UM in October 2007.

Emily Crawford, SpectrUM outreach coordinator, said the program is “communicating a love of wonder and curiosity.”

Crawford said that when she was young, she visited a science museum and from that point was hooked on the idea that students should experience science phenomena in a physical way.

“Our goal is getting students hooked on the simple concept that science can be fun,” Crawford said.

The theme for this circus was the “physics of motion,” and each experience station held experiments that made simple science seem like magic. 

“One thing you learn is that everything is interrelated,” Crawford said. “It is great to see students get excited about science.”

Libby is as far north as the circus has traveled and during parent night on Friday, she was amazed at how well-received the open house was, with more than 100 participants throughout the night.

One of the big hits was making ice cream by combining the common ingredients with liquid nitrogen, which is a frigid minus 196 degrees Celsius.

Kim Peck, Elementary Parent Council president, discovered the SpectrUM program through a television ad. Shortly after she contacted and booked them for Libby to encounter.

The Parent Council is responsible for bringing many diverse events to the elementary students of Libby and hold an annual fundraiser in September to pay for them. 

The Circus of Science is funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

It offers students from the Montana metropolitan centers of Missoula to rural outposts like Libby the chance to reach out and live science and show how natural mystery and the ever-inquisitive quest for “why” became the over-arching term science.