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PHOTO GALLERY: Junior high students study energy, build transformers

Saturday, March 12, 2011 | 5:29 p.m. CST; updated 9:18 p.m. CST, Saturday, March 12, 2011
Saja Necibi and Haley Birk test voltage during a power experiment Saturday morning. The girls said they enjoyed the hands-on approach to science.

COLUMBIA — Having to wake up early on a Saturday morning didn’t stop 24 Jefferson Junior High School students from learning the basics of energy conversion as part of Saturday Science, a program that teaches students how science applies to the everyday world.

Students gathered at 8:45 a.m. to learn how energy is converted to lower voltages for use in homes. Staff from Columbia Water and Light gave students the opportunity to build their own transformers and then plug appliances normally run on batteries, such as radios, into their transformers to show how they generate power.

“Kids like to get involved and interactive tools seem to be the best way to get people involved,” Terry Freeman, residential services supervisor with Water and Light, said.

The morning started off with a group presentation explaining the principle of magnetic fields. Students had the opportunity to see the size of a real transformer at the Columbia Municipal Power Plant and were then shown how to apply the concepts with their own transformers.

Freeman said Water and Light does this project with Saturday Science for Columbia's three junior high schools to help educate them about energy efficiency.

“Saturday Science is one where kids volunteer to come here, and so they really want to learn,” he said.

Cathy Dweik, a physics teacher at Jefferson Junior, has taken part in this program for seven years and said that it has been going on for at least 15 years. Students at each of the city's junior high schools apply to take part in Saturday Science. Dweik said there were over 50 applicants this year from Jefferson Junior, of whom she could accept 32.

The Assistance League of Mid-Missouri provides the funding for the students' transportation from the school to the program location, and the businesses providing the presentation pay for everything else, Dweik said.

“The program alternates businesses every year so the kids can learn something new about science,” she said.

Freeman and Dweik said Water and Light is on the agenda every year because they cycle through subjects so as not to cover the same material every year.

Other places the Saturday Science students visited this year included the Columbia Career Center, where students made holograms with lasers, and the Columbia Fire Department, where they learned about fire rescue and how the pulley system assists with fire rescue, Dweik said.

“They’re being exposed to so many different types of science that are in the real world," she said. "They’re becoming educated Columbia citizens, and the program is about how science impacts everything they do."

The students were split up into teams of four at Saturday's event to work together to make the transformers — all the teams were successful in getting their transformers to work, Freeman said.

Ginny Tharpe, Carmen Stephens, Kelsey Harper and Sammy See came together to build a transformer at the event.

Harper, a ninth-grader at Jefferson Junior, said she comes to Saturday Science because she wants to be an engineer and wants to learn as much as she can and get more experience.

Tharpe, also in the ninth grade, said she wanted to be a part of Saturday Science because she wasn't good at science and wanted to get better.

“I figured if I came I’d learn more and get better at it," she said. "The hands-on activities are really fun and really help."

Saja Necibi checks how voltages have changed after running power through a transformer. The students learned it is better to run power over long distances at a higher voltage, which requires a transformer to decrease the voltage before it comes into their homes, because less power is lost.
The home-made transformers were built by wrapping different lengths of wires around two different pieces of metal. All the students that took part in Saturday Science on Saturday morning learned first-hand how power voltages can be changed with transformers.
Allen Crane maneuvers a bucket truck with Jilly Dos Sants and Jessica Porter across the street from the Columbia Municipal Power Plant on Saturday morning. All the students who were part of Saturday Science got the opportunity to go up nearly 70 feet in the air.
Terry Freeman, with City of Columbia residential power services, explains how a home-made power transformer works Saturday morning. More than 20 students lead by Jefferson Junior High School teacher Cathy Dweik chose to spend their morning taking part in Saturday Science.

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