220929ind science

Don Cobb, a scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency, demonstrates how various tools are used to take samples from the seafloor during the "Science Saturday" event held at the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography on Saturday.

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — With a low thud and a bounce, a plastic trash barrel became a volcano that sprayed ping-pong balls out from its open lid onto a hillside overlooking Narragansett Bay last Saturday.

And it amazed and delighted the dozens of youngsters watching it.

The ‘eruption,’ using some liquid nitrogen in a capped plastic bottle, was a demonstration by Graduate School of Oceanography students and faculty as part of the University of Rhode Island’s Science Saturday.

“Most of the Earth’s volcanoes are under the water, and are erupting all the time,” volcanologist Katie Kelley said.

Two smaller, gentler demonstrations with the help of young volunteers used even more simple ingredients anyone can get, such as dropping Mentos into a two-liter bottle of soda to cause a foamy eruption or baking soda and vinegar to simulate active lava.

“You can totally do those at home with things you can get at the grocery store,” Kelley said.

Science Saturday has been held for several years, and is a chance for the public – especially kids – to interact with researchers at URI.

The children and other visitors can get up close and hold interesting sea creatures, touch rocks from the sea floor, look into microscopes at tiny life forms invisible to the eye and check out state-of-the-art underwater deep sea probes.  

Interactive ocean science exhibits explored topics including plastics and contaminant pollution in Narragansett Bay, predicting extreme weather events like hurricanes and their effects on the coast, deep ocean exploration and the hidden world of underwater sound.

Dozens of exhibits were set up under a large tent at the GSO quad area.

At one table, a pair of LCD screens showed live and recorded images of tiny microbes scurrying around on a slide under a microscope.

“We study microbes that live in the mud,” PhD student Anna Schrecengost said. “A lot of the organisms we study come from local marshes.”

The microbes glow and can live without oxygen, Schrecengost said, but studying them is useful to observe symbiosis: how they interact with other organisms and the environment.

Nearby, the Sea Glider, an underwater robot, attracted lots of curious children.

“This will go down to depths of 1,000 meters,” ocean engineering student Eliza Taylor said. “It will collect data on temperature, salinity (salt levels) and depth.”

It also has a microphone to observe acoustics.

“We can’t bring a camera down there, it’s too dark, and if we used a light it could scare away some of the life we’re trying to study,” Taylor said.

The submersible probe just returned from the Atlantic gulf stream.

“It’s completely autonomous and can be by itself at sea for a long time,” Taylor said.

Saturday’s event was a return to normal for the science gathering, after two years interrupted and scaled down by the pandemic.

The picture-perfect early fall weather didn’t hurt, either.

Visitors could check out shellfish at the GSO aquarium building, the Marine Geological Samples Lab, see a wave tank or head over to the Coastal Resource Center.

At the Inner Space Center, a team of ocean scientists, engineers, education professionals and video producers showed how they use cutting-edge technology to produce and promote underwater exploration in real time.

The graduate students and professors were more than happy to share their wealth of knowledge with the visitors, especially youngsters interested in marine sciences.

“This year we definitely have more exhibits,” GSO Dean Paula S. Bontempi said. “What’s awesome is this year we brought in a lot of our partners from the state – RIDEM is here, we’ve got other colleges here like the College of Engineering, the College of Environment and Life Sciences. We’re giving tours of all our buildings, it’s utterly packed.”

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