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From gliding around on a hovercraft to building their own hot-air balloons, the kids of the Peak Adventure Club learned Sunday afternoon that science can be taken outside of the classroom.

Nearly 50 elementary school students with the club got to experiment with physics and make their own science projects Sunday afternoon on Oregon State University’s campus. Dr. Ethan Minot, an OSU associate professor, hosted “The Physics of Air” presentation at Weniger Hall. The demonstrations performed Sunday included suspending a ball in mid-air using a leaf blower, flying a miniature helicopter, pushing objects with air and riding around on a hovercraft made of plywood and plastic.

During one experiment, Minot was preparing to use a bean bag to represent an air molecule to show students how the molecules affect objects around them. But 8-year-old Tristan Van Brocklin interjected.

“Why is it a ball? If it’s a molecule, it would be made up of atoms and it wouldn’t look like a ball,” Tristan said.

Minot couldn’t help but smile in surprise.

“You’re right,” Minot said. “It wouldn’t look like a ball, but we’re using one to show you how it will react.”

While he didn't expect the response, Minot said, he was delighted to hear such intelligent questions come out of the group. In addition to holding a doctorate in physics, Minot is a father who understands how important it is for students to see and understand physics in the real world.

“I firmly believe that the best way to understand something is to actually build it,” Minot said. “It gets me very excited to see them have fun with science, and for me, preparing these activities is like reliving all of the fun things I did as a kid and that got me excited about science.”  

Minot’s kids also are part of the Peak Adventure Club. The club conducts largely outdoors-based activities for boys and girls in grades K through fifth grade based in Corvallis. The club’s goal is to provide adventurous and enriching activities for children.

“We wanted to do something in the winter that was indoors but allowed them to have that same sense of adventure,” he said. “And with the ‘Physics of Air’ we picked something that was tangible that they don’t see but they could appreciate in the classroom and at home.”

For Corvallis’ Lauren Gwin, keeping science alive outside of the classroom is vital for her daughters Lillie Epps, 7, and Susannah Epps, 4.  

“These kinds of hands-on demonstrations are so important because you get to watch it all click into place in their heads,” she said. “I have two girls and I know what the stats are about girls in science and math. I always loved science and math growing up and I’m determined to make sure my girls have all the opportunities available.”

That includes building a hovercraft at home. Gwinn says she and her daughters plan to build one for when the girls see their grandfather, himself a retired engineer.

“My father is retired, he’s coming out to see them and he will love to see them build a hovercraft,” she said. “They’ve done a bunch of cool science projects together before and this will be really fun for them.”

Lillie said she was eager to show her grandpa how a hovercraft works and how to make a hot-air balloon.

“It was really fun making the balloon,” she said. “Because I got to make it and it floated.” 

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