Scares, spooks and skeletons at Metro State’s scientific Halloween

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Michael Ayako,left, Dr. Kate Ries and Kathy Montz demonstrate the pH scale using everyday household items at the College of Sciences Spooky Science Halloween in the Science Education Center, Oct. 31, 2018. Photo by Scott Lindell


Parents and children found fun and frights at Metro State’s Spooky Science Halloween on Oct. 31 at the Science Education Center. They joined the College of Science faculty, staff and student volunteers for an evening of exploring scary scents and textures, making slime, scavenging for skeletons—and collecting candy of course.

“Acids [such as citric acid in oranges] are things that taste sour,” said Dr. Kate Ries, assistant professor of chemistry, at the event. She talked about the differences between acids, bases and alkalis to a group of children. At her table, explained the pH scale using everyday household items like laundry detergent, vinegar, apple juice and baking soda.

Ries encouraged kids as they used droppers to mix ingredients with a homemade pH indicator—red cabbage juice. The young scientists were amazed to see acidic substances turn reddish and alkaline green.

“You have to explain it at different levels,” Ries explained. Presentations for the children must be relatable and not too technical, she said.

In the past, Ries said she and other planners unintentionally geared science events to appeal mostly to children eight years or older, like at Pi Day in March 2018. Now, they have a new approach. “Variety [is key]—so kids of all ages can get something out of it,” she said.

Dr. Lori Fischer (dressed as Mimikyu, a ghost/fairy Pokemon character) displayed skulls and skeletons at Spooky Science Halloween in the Science Education Center, Oct. 31, 2018.
Photo by Scott Lindell

On Halloween, variety meant displaying the diversity of the sciences. Children learned about anatomy, biology, chemistry, geology and physics. They experimented with magic sand, fluorescent materials, magnetic levitations, marker chromatography, Helmholtz coils and a slimy substance called oobleck (a mixture of glue, water, borax and food coloring).

The event also revealed real-world applications of science. Julie Chau, a Metro State student and coordinator of First Saturday Science events, showed kids the importance of using sunscreen. With tiny UV detecting beads in a Petri dish, participants observed the difference between beads with sunscreen and those without it. Without sunscreen, beads changed colors within 10-20 seconds when exposed to ultraviolet light. Beads, with sunscreen, remained unchanged.

Children also dug through bins of bones and examined skeletons. Dr. Lori Fischer, community faculty in natural sciences, led a game to match bones from the bin with a skeleton. She said the exercise is “similar to what students learn in class—just a leaner version.”

At her table, lab assistant Jennifer Edgerton discussed the benefits—and frightening possibilities— of gene editing. She used Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” as a familiar example.

Edgerton let kids use an amino acid decoding chart to “crack the code” or make a DNA-sequence bracelet. She kept her presentation to the point. “[If they are] too long no one will want to do them,” she said.

Though kids spent less than five minutes at each table, it did not take much time for them to make scientific breakthroughs. Elizabeth Curley, chemistry laboratory specialist, said she hoped that trick-or-treaters left with “little nuggets that everyone should know about science.”