Skip over navigation

Outreach

March 29, 2014: Stars of Materials Science - Amazing Polymers Featuring Rick Register

Rick, Raleigh, Adam, Will, and Dane were invited to inaugurate the new Stars of Materials Science Lecture Series hosted by the Princeton Center for Complex Materials. Nearly 300 audience members, made up of excited future scientists and their families, came for the two showings of Amazing Polymers organized by Dan Steinberg and Sergio Acio. The lecture began with an introduction by Dr. Kathryn Wagner who taught the audience the basics of polymers, or long chain-like macromolecules, by having the audience link themselves together to make a variety of polymer chains.

audience-chains

Dr. Wagner teaching the audience about how individual monomers can link together to form a polymer.

linking-up

In no time she had the whole audience forming one gigantic polymer.

dana

Next up, Dr. Dana Sheridan, from the Cotsen Children's Library, described the fascinating history of Charles Goodyear, the inventor of vulcanization or the process used to cross-link natural rubber.

audience

Rick then began teaching about polymers and their chain-like nature using a variety of slides, videos, and (best of all) demonstrations.

Rick-chain

Rick using an actual chain to model a polymer. Just like with a polymer, the individual links are weak and cannot easily bear stress. However, once joined together, the links are strong and can be used for a variety of things. 

will

Will using a balloon to show the importance of time scales for movement and relaxation of polymer chains. When poked quickly with a skewer, the balloon pops, but when done slowly and carefully Will was able to puncture the balloon without popping it. Balloon-kabob anyone?

The gang really enjoyed participating in the Stars of Materials Science program. We hope that everyone learned something new about polymers and that you can hopefully come see us again sometime.

November 1: Materials Science Day for Middle Schoolers at Princeton University
During Princeton's Fall Break, over 200 middle schoolers from Trenton and other nearby school districts travelled to the Princeton campus for a day of materials science lecture-demonstrations and hands-on activities. Rick, Bryan, and Raleigh reprised the "polymer show" for the entire group in the Friend Center Auditorium, to demonstrate the unusual properties of polymers; the demos were augmented by a background PowerPoint slideshow illustrating concepts of polymer chain entanglements, crosslinking, and reversible crosslinking. The photos below capture some of the demos.


Rick bounces a ball of Silly Putty, while explaining the idea of transient crosslinks (entanglements) illustrated by the background slide.

raleigh2011novsciday

Raleigh demonstrates how the elasticity of polymers--a consequence of the random-coil nature of long chains-- can allow a rubber balloon to seal around a puncture, with Rick and Bryan in the background.


After the show, a student sticks around to see what a cupful of water-swollen superabsorbent polymer gel feels like.

May 31: Chemistry Fair at Millstone River School

To help 5th grade students better understand different states of matter, and transformations between them, teacher Helen Chang of the Millstone River School (Plainsboro, NJ) organized an all-morning Chemistry Fair featuring outside presenters.  Rick was one of the four presenters, describing the long-chain nature of polymers, and how crosslinking can transform them from liquid to solid.

millstone small 46

Rick discussing how uncrosslinked Silly Putty flows at long times: though entanglements slow down the relative motion of polymer chains, they don't stop it.

millstone small 59

Rick demonstrating how crosslinks allow a superabsorbent polymer gel to remain solid, even after it absorbs 100 times its weight in water.

2011 Science and Engineering Exposition at Princeton University

The Register Group continued its longstanding support of the Science and Engineering Exposition (March 18, 2011), reprising several of its most successful hands-on activities from previous years, as shown in the pictures below. The eighth annual SEE brought several hundred students from area middle schools to visit four sites around campus, including about 300 to the Dillon Gym site where the Register Group (Rick, Sheng LI, Bryan Beckingham, Saswati Pujari, and Raleigh Davis) were in action. Some of the demos were swelling and deswelling of a superabsorbent polymer gel (crosslinked sodium polyacrylate), the elasticity of rubber and viscoelasticity of Silly Putty, and the preparation of "slime" of "gak" (partially hydrolyzed polyvinylacetate, reversibly crosslinked with borate), distributed as "free samples" to all takers.

Raleigh bouncing a Silly Putty ball.


Bryan and Sheng help a group of visitors make "slime".


Rick deswells a polymer gel by adding salt.


March 1: "Making Stuff"

Throughout the fall, the education outreach staff of the Princeton Center for Complex Materials (PCCM) worked with middle-school teachers from Trenton to build knowledge of materials science, in preparation for the NOVA television program “Making Stuff”, which aired in January and February on PBS. A large outreach day program on the Princeton University campus, originally scheduled for January 27, was snowed out by a three-foot blizzard. So to make it up to the teachers and students who have been anticipating the event, the Register Group performed a pair of 40-minute auditorium shows on the Princeton University campus (in the Computer Science Large Auditorium). In addition to reprising several of their most successful hands-on activities (as showcased in the Science and Engineering Expo), the group added a demo on the gelation of fully-hydrolyzed poly(vinylalcohol) with borax (“slime”), its de-gelation with vinegar, and re-gelation into a foam with baking soda, building on the vinegar-baking soda “volcano” reaction already familiar to middle school students. The group also added a background PowerPoint slideshow, illustrating concepts of polymer chain entanglements, crosslinking, and reversible crosslinking.

Rick describes the effects of crosslinking to a rapt audience.


Sheng helps a visitor make her own "slime" after the lecture.


2010 Science and Engineering Exposition at Princeton University
The Register Group continued its longstanding support of the Science and Engineering Exposition (March 18, 2010), reprising several of its most successful hands-on activities from previous years, as shown in the pictures below.   An important new development this year was that the “Polymers!” portion of the Expo formed the basis for a professionally-produced video, which debuted as the headline story on the Princeton University homepage and ran for several weeks.

Rick makes the analogy between a “polymer” chain and a “metal” chain.


Sheng and Bryan generate "slime".


2009 Science and Engineering Exposition at Princeton University
For the fifth straight year, the Register group has “anchored” the Dillon Gym portion of the annual Science and Engineering Expo (SEE), running the first demonstration tables which visitors encounter as they enter the gym.  Held on March 19, the sixth annual SEE brought over 1200 students from area middle schools to visit four sites around campus.  Though some group members were away at the American Physical Society meeting in Pittsburgh, Bryan Beckingham, John Papalia, Rick Register, and Brooke Van Horn ran two tables dedicated to the unusual properties of polymers. Some of the demos were swelling and deswelling of a superabsorbent polymer gel (crosslinked sodium polyacrylate), and the preparation of “gak” (partially hydrolyzed polyvinylacetate, reversibly crosslinked with borate) and “slime” (a transparent and stiffer version based on fully hydrolyzed polyvinylacetate), distributed as “free samples” to all takers.Additional photos and information can be found here.


John P., Bryan, and Brooke (at right, front to back) show how to make “slime” and “gak” in a rainbow of colors.



Rick expounds on why polymers show the properties they do.

January 31, 2009:  Family Science Day at Grover Middle School
Four members of the Register Group (Bryan Beckingham, Sheng Li, Rick Register, and Brooke Van Horn) anchored two demonstration tables at the first West Windsor-Plainsboro Family Science Day.  Organized by the WW-P Education Foundation, and held at Thomas R. Grover Middle School in West Windsor, the day featured two auditorium shows on “The Right Stuff:  The Science of Materials”, performed by staff of the Liberty Science Center.  In between and in parallel with the auditorium shows, the Register group reprised some of its most popular hands-on activities at the demonstration tables, including swelling and deswelling of a superabsorbent polymer gel (crosslinked sodium polyacrylate); rubber elasticity, as demonstrated by passing a needle through a balloon without popping it; and the preparation of “gak” (partially hydrolyzed polyvinylacetate, reversibly crosslinked with borate) and “slime” (a transparent and stiffer version based on fully hydrolyzed polyvinylacetate) in a range of designer colors.  In a happy coincidence, Grover 7th Grader Jeffrey Register was available to assist the more experienced presenters.  Several hundred people from all over the West-Windsor Plainsboro School District were in attendance, and the event was captured by the Trenton Times, which ran the photo below on page A3 in the Sunday, February 1 issue (with Rick in the foreground and Sheng and Bryan in the background; photo by Mary Iuvone for the Trenton Times).


Rick demonstrating swelling to a rapt audience.

2008 Science and Engineering Exposition at Princeton University
So far in 2008, our principal outreach activity has been the fifth annual Science and Engineering Expo (SEE), held on the Princeton campus on March 19. This event brought approximately 1000 students from area middle schools to visit four sites around campus including Dillon Gym, where the Register Group (including participants John Bishop, Sheng Li, Bryan Beckingham, Jeff Quinn, Bob Scogna, Andy Marencic, John Papalia, and Brooke Van Horn, supported through this award) ran three tables dedicated to the unusual properties of polymers. Some of the demos were swelling and deswelling of a superabsorbent polymer gel (crosslinked sodium polyacrylate); rubber elasticity, as demonstrated by passing a needle through a balloon without popping it; the glass transition, via brittle fracture of a racquetball (natural rubber, cis-polyisoprene) quenched in liquid nitrogen; the preparation of 'slime' (partially hydrolyzed polyvinylacetate, reversibly crosslinked with borate, then liquefied with vinegar and re-gelled to a foam of polyvinylalcohol with baking soda) in a range of designer colors; the elasticity of high-molecular weight polymers (via Silly Putty and an entangled solution of poly(ethylene oxide) in water, explained with chain-link and bead-chain models). Studies have shown that the middle-school years are when many students lose interest in science and technology, especially girls; the goal of the SEE is to reinforce that interest, by presenting a number of 'hands-on' demonstration tables where students can experience firsthand the excitement of science and technology (and, for our group, particularly the science and technology of polymers!). Additional photos and information can be found here.


Rick deswelling a polymer gel.

Bob and Bryan making slime for the audience.

Sheng puncturing a balloon.


Princyclopedia 2007:  Harry Potter

The Register Group staffed a table demonstrating (and explaining) the “magical” properties of polymers in this event, open to the general public and widely advertised (some 3000 attendees in total).  Rick, Sasha, Jeff, and Sheng (dressed in wizard hats!) focused especially on the memory of gels and rubbers and the glass transition, as demonstrated through: swelling and deswelling of a superabsorbent polymer gel (crosslinked sodium polyacrylate); rubber elasticity, as demonstrated by passing a needle through a balloon without popping it; the glass transition, via brittle fracture of a racquetball (natural rubber, cis-polyisoprene) quenched in liquid nitrogen;  and the preparation of “slime” (partially hydrolyzed polyvinylacetate, reversibly crosslinked with borate).  For a full news story on Princyclopedia 2007, click here.


Jeff and Sasha fielding questions from a rapt audience.

2007 Science and Engineering Exposition at Princeton University
The fourth annual Science and Engineering Expo (SEE) was held on the Princeton campus on March 22, 2007.  Approximately 1000 students from area middle schools visited four sites on campus, including Dillon Gym, where the Register Group (including Sasha Myers, Jeff Quinn, Bob Scogna, Andy Marencic, John Bishop, and Sheng Li) ran two tables dedicated to the unusual properties of polymers.  Some of the demos were swelling and deswelling of a superabsorbent polymer gel (crosslinked sodium polyacrylate); rubber elasticity, as demonstrated by a perpetual-motion wheel illuminated by a heat lamp, and by passing a needle through a balloon without popping it; the glass transition, via brittle fracture of a racquetball (natural rubber, cis-polyisoprene) quenched in liquid nitrogen;  the preparation of “slime” (partially hydrolyzed polyvinylacetate, reversibly crosslinked with borate) in a range of designer colors; the elasticity of high-molecular weight polymers (via Silly Putty and an entangled solution of poly(ethylene oxide) in water, explained with chain-link and bead-chain models).  For a full news story on SEE 2007, click here.


Sheng fearlessly demonstrates the resilience of a balloon to a needle puncture

Students squishing samples of Sasha’s yellow slime

Andy with a beaker of gooey entangled polyox solution

February 24, 2007:  Timberlane Middle School Science Fair
The Register Group Polymer Show was the “headline act” at the annual Timberlane Middle School Science Fair (Pennington, NJ).  Performers included Sasha Myers, Jeff Quinn, and Jeffrey Register, and covered swelling and deswelling of a superabsorbent polymer gel (crosslinked sodium polyacrylate); rubber elasticity, as demonstrated by a perpetual-motion wheel illuminated by a heat lamp; reversible gelation, liquefaction, and re-gelation to a foam of polyvinylalcohol (with borax, vinegar, and baking soda); and the glass transition, via brittle fracture of a racquetball (natural rubber, cis-polyisoprene) quenched in liquid nitrogen. Kids and their parents stayed afterwards to ask questions both about polymers, and what it’s like to be a scientist or engineer.


Rick and Jeffrey demonstrate the solidity of a cupful of swollen superabsorbent gel

Sasha and Jeff with audience members after the show

May 23, 2006:  The Right Stuff – Materials Science

Register group members, with 20 Trenton Central High School students, help Liberty Science Center (LSC; Jersey City, NJ) evaluate and refine a new 45-minute LSC workshop on materials science for grades 9-12.  The workshop, led by Harold Clark of LSC, aims to introduce students to the properties, structures, and processing of metals, ceramics, polymers, semiconductors and composites.  The workshop will become a regular feature once the LSC’s expanded venue opens in 2007.

 

2006 Science and Engineering Exposition at Princeton University

Building on prior years’ successes, the third annual Science and Engineering Expo (SEE) was held on the Princeton campus on March 21, 2006.  This time, the main venue was Dillon Gym, to better accommodate the strong attendance:  approximately 1000 students from area middle schools, hearing short lectures on selected topics in science and engineering and participating in a number of hands-on activities.  The Register Group (including Sasha Myers, Jeff Quinn, Bob Scogna, Andy Marencic, and Jose Vedrine) ran two tables dedicated to the properties of polymers and organic materials.  Some of the demos were swelling and deswelling of a superabsorbent polymer gel (crosslinked sodium polyacrylate); the glass transition, via brittle fracture of a racquetball (natural rubber, cis-polyisoprene) quenched in liquid nitrogen;  the preparation of pink “slime” (partially hydrolyzed polyvinylacetate, reversibly crosslinked with borate); the elasticity of high-molecular weight polymers (via an entangled solution of poly(ethylene oxide) in water); and the polarizing and diffraction ability of liquid crystals (both as neat films and as components of displays). 


RAR demonstrates superabsorbent polyelectrolyte gels.

Bob and Sasha make “slime” to distribute to the attendees.

Jeff and Andy (foreground) demonstrate brittle fracture below the Tg, while Jose (background) shows how a liquid-crystal display works.

2005 Science and Engineering Exposition at Princeton University

The second annual Science and Engineering Expo (SEE) was held on the Princeton campus on March 18, 2005.  Approximately 1000 students from area middle schools attended, hearing short lectures on selected topics in science and engineering and participating in a number of hands-on activities.  The Register Group (including Sasha Myers, Jeff Quinn, Bob Scogna, and Kat Wakabayashi) ran a table dedicated to the properties of polymers.  Some of the demos were swelling and deswelling of a superabsorbent polymer gel (crosslinked sodium polyacrylate); the elasticity of “happy” and “sad” rubber balls (cis-polyisoprene and polynorbornene) at room temperature and -78C; and the preparation of green “slime” (partially hydrolyzed polyvinylacetate, reversibly crosslinked with borate), in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.  The event attracted coverage from the regional print media and television stations.

The New York Times, March 18, 2005, page B3

The Princeton Packet, March 18, 2005, page 13A

“Strange Matter” at the Liberty Science Center

Recently, the Materials Research Society has developed an exhibit, “Strange Matter”, designed to show both the importance of materials in daily life and the impact of materials research.  Developed originally at the Ontario Science Center, the exhibit will travel to science museums throughout North America.  Its first stop in the United States was at the Liberty Science Center (LSC, across the Hudson River from Manhattan in Jersey City), from February through May, 2004.  We developed 45-min long demonstration sessions focusing on the unusual rheological, solubility, and mechanical properties of polymers.  We made two separate Saturday visits to the LSC, and delivered these demos throughout the afternoon.  Each demo typically drew about 50 attendees (mostly children 6-12 and their parents).  The demo was recorded and put onto DVD for use in training other demonstrators; a copy is available upon request.  A few photos of the demonstration team are given below:

This outreach effort, which involves several Princeton faculty and is coordinated through the Princeton Center for Complex Materials, was the subject of an article in E-Quad News


Professor Register demonstrates the compressive properties of a rubber (tennis ball) using “The Crusher”.

The entire “Chain Gang” demonstration team. From left to right: Rick Register, Kat Wakabayashi, Jeffrey Register, John Hatjopoulos, Sasha Myers, and Jeff Quinn.

Science Curriculum Support Project

Throughout Mercer County (where Princeton is located; capitol is Trenton), school systems have moved to "inquiry-based learning" for science instruction in the elementary schools. Students work hands-on with "kits" designed to illustrate basic science concepts in a variety of areas. While learning by doing is a powerful way to communicate points to students, and to maintain their interest in the material, the kits are not equipped with textbooks (or similar information) which provides background concepts, extensions to the activities covered in the kits, or assessment tools. In 1999, the Princeton Center for Complex Materials and the Princeton Materials Institute started the Science Curriculum Support Project to partner Princeton faculty, staff, and graduate students with teachers in local school systems to work together to fill this education gap.

The Register Group has collectively adopted the FOSS kit "Mixtures and Solutions", developed by the Lawrence Hall of Science. This kit is used in fifth-grade classrooms in several townships around the county, and we have worked with teachers from Ewing, Lawrenceville, and Hopewell on the project. Besides background materials, we have together developed extensions of this kit for gifted and talented students, as well as activities and assessment tools for special education students. Many of the materials we have jointly developed for use with this kit are now available on the web:

Mixtures and Solutions Website Contents

To facilitate use of both the kit and our enhancement materials throughout Mercer County, we ran a two-hour workshop at Princeton for approximately 30 teachers from several area school systems. During the workshop, we demonstrated the basics of the kit, explained the materials now available on the web, fielded questions from the attendees, and allowed attendees to share the experiences and insights they have gained in using the kit. The entire workshop was videotaped so that teachers unable to attend will still be able to benefit, and was the cover story in "E-Quad News" .