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Fermilab welcomes families with tours, activities

Published: Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013 4:07 p.m. CST • Updated: Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 11:04 p.m. CST
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Jillian Burkhart, 7, of West Chicago watches her sister, Summer Burkhart, 9, participate in "Steady Hands," one of many interactive games available for children to play at Sunday's annual open house at Fermilab in Batavia. (By Nicole Weskerna - nweskerna@shawmedia.com)

BATAVIA – From cryogenic marshmallows to homemade kaleidoscopes, there was no shortage of hands-on scientific activities to choose from at Sunday's family open house at Fermilab in Batavia.

Sue Dumford, docent with the Fermilab's Education Office, said the annual open house usually draws 1,500 to 2,000 people.

She said five high school groups participated Sunday in creating and administering science experiments to share with children up through junior high. She said at least a dozen Fermilab scientists also participated in showing different types of scientific experiments to families.

Aside from several science shows, volunteers offered 18 hands-on experiments, including a magnet table, a gravity collider and "pull out the rug," a game where children tried to pull a towel out from underneath an item without the item moving.

That was one of the more exciting experiments, according to Christoph Gaffud, 10, of Lombard. He and his mom, Maria Gaffud, had observed and participated in a few experiments before they took a Fermilab tour, which Christoph could finally participate in now that he's 10.

"He loves physics and anything to do with science," Maria Gaffud said. "This place is wonderful for him. He's been wanting to see the accelerator."

Christoph got to try a cryogenic marshmallow, which is a marshmallow dipped in liquid nitrogen made by Fermilab employee Jerry Zimmerman, who puts on a cryogenics demonstration as Mr. Freeze.

"It kind of feels like it's cold at first, but then it's crunchy and it starts melting," he said.

Vipuli Jayesinghe and her daughter, Methuli Jayesinghe, 7, of Oak Brook, checked out the shape shooter – a game in which a wooden shape was obscured by a pie tin, and children had to guess the shape of the wood by rolling marbles past it – while her 10-year-old daughter took a tour.

"I didn't think it was this interactive," she said, adding that she had already picked up some literature so her family could attend next year's family open house.

Dumford said the family open house is a collaboration that's sponsored by the non-profit Fermilab Friends for Science Education organization, along with several high schools and Fermilab employees. She said the event is free to the public and is usually held the Sunday after the Super Bowl.

Dumford said ever since the Tevatron particle accelerator ceased operation in 2011, a lot of people have wondered if Fermilab is closed. She said that's far from true, and that's one of the reasons they host an open house.

"We want to let people know it is a viable laboratory with lots of cool stuff going on," she said, adding that there are plenty of hidden gems, such as a dog-training area, a model airplane lab, cross country skiing paths and horse stables.

Susan Dumford, president of the Fermilab Friends for Science Education, said one of the goals of the open house is to reach students in the surrounding community and get them excited about science at a young age.

"It's a really nice opportunity for Fermilab to communicate with the community," she said. "It's a great way to kind of open up the doors and say 'welcome.'"

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