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Energy and U introduces 2,700 students to science

With explosions, flames, flying pop bottles, rock music, and screaming gummy bears, 2,700 students from metro area schools and home schools were introduced to the science at this May's Energy and U shows. Energy and U is a unique and fun University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering outreach program that aims to interest elementary and middle school students in science.

Outreach to schools with high percentages of students of color and low-income students is a particularly important component of the “Energy and U” shows. The demographics for the public schools attending this year's shows ranged from nearly 100 percent students of color to 29 percent students of color. The percentages for students receiving free or reduced-priced lunch—an indicator of proverty—ranged from 91 percent to 15 percent.

"We try to emphasize that they, too, could do what we do every day," said David Blank, an associate professor in the University’s Department of Chemistry and one of the creators of Energy and U.

Through engaging and fun demonstrations, the Energy and U show teaches students that energy cannot be created or destroyed but it can be stored and change forms. The students learn how chemical reactions play a key role in that process. All of the examples about energy are put in terms that students can understand, including how the sugar in gummy bears can be converted to energy and how many gummy bears it would take to power the world for one day.

In addition to Blank, other Energy and U presenters include associate professor Christy Haynes, professor Marc Hillmyer, and lecture demonstration director Joseph Franek from the Department of Chemistry, and professor Frank Bates, head of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. Bates, Blank, and Hillmyer started the “Energy and U” program in 2006.

The University's Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) offsets bus transportation costs for participating schools as part of their outreach efforts.

"Key criteria for MRSEC's involvement in outreach includes demonstrated quality, clear relevance to materials science and engineering, opportunities to engage under-represented communities, and cost-effectiveness," said Chemistry Professor Timothy Lodge who leads MRSEC. "Clearly, Energy and U satisfies all four of these."

Medtronic also provided support for this year's shows.

Photos by Patrick O'Leary

Watch the UMNews YouTube video and read the Minnesota Daily news story online.