Enjoying Science


Tricky fumes: Liquid nitrogen begins its work.

Tricky fumes: Liquid nitrogen begins its work.  

It is a sight that belies the eye. Professor Subbiah Pandian and T.S. Natarajan hammer a nail on to a board. The hammer he uses? A banana! The banana has been frozen in liquid nitrogen and has become hard enough to be used as a hammer.

"This shows that matter changes its properties and structure at different temperatures," the professors explain. They also elaborate on the concept by freezing a rubber ball in liquid nitrogen. The rubber ball is thrown on the floor, and instead of bouncing it breaks like a glass ball.

"This happens because the rubber ball has lost its elasticity," the professors now tell the audience.

The quest for knowledge begins in wonder. Taking off on this premise, the B.M. Birla Planetarium, Chennai, has been conducting unique and thought-provoking science experiments, every week.

Using live demonstrations and experiments, senior professors dispel superstitions and myths on apparently ethereal phenomena. Other interesting experiments include demonstrations of how it is possible for a man to lie on a bed of nails without being impaled! This, we learn, is because of equal distribution of mass atop the numerous nails.

The other aspect of this programme is to educate teachers on making and using low-cost teaching aids. It has been through the initiative of professors Subbiah Pandian (Presidency College) and T.S. Natarajan (IIT, Chennai) that the sessions came to be held. While the experiments have been designed by both of them, the planetarium provides the materials.

These sessions have been going on since March 2002. Every Saturday, at 3 p.m., busloads of children assemble in the lobby of the planetarium, watch science in action and leave with their understanding and passion for science heightened.

"I never knew that science can be so exciting," voices young Archana. The rubber ball has come to room temperature now.

Siddharth, a Std. V student, who had come with his family to the planetarium for a show and witnessed the science session by chance, picks up a piece of the broken rubber ball to show his friends.

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