COLUMBIA — Ben Foulkes, 5, was a flurry of energy as he bounded toward a pile of plastic building pieces.
As he surveyed the multicolored plastic pieces in front of him, he said, "OK, I have an idea." Then he went to work, haphazardly fitting together the long plastic tubes to build a cube.
He was clearly having a blast, but he was doing more than just having fun. He was also learning about the physics of building and trying to understand through experimentation what would make it stable.
This fun, hands-on approach to science on Saturday was organized by MU and Columbia Public Schools in an event called Science Sleuth.
While Ben was building, other children were picking apart owl pellets, examining X-rays, and comparing their weight on earth to what it would be on other planets. The stations were designed to be fun and engaging ways to teach children about physics, biology, meteorology and other scientific fields.
One station had a cylindrical device that simulated tornadoes. A fan at the top of the device pulled mist from the bottom. Tubes on the device blew the air and mist in a circular motion that created a tornado-like vortex. Lucas Hagan, 7, stuck his hand into the swirling formation and grinned as the cold water condensed on his hand.
"Feel it," he said to his father, Mike Hagan.
This event was designed to make science accessible, fun and interesting for children and families, said Deanna Lankford, project coordinator for the MU Office of Science Outreach.
First and foremost, the event exemplified for children that science is not simply a subject they study in school, she said. Science is a part of life. She also said the event helped teach parents they can use science to entertain their children.
Science is important to the future of the nation, Lankford said. She wanted this event to make science a reality for children.
"So, you take it out of school and you make it into something that has a connection to their lives, and that's what this is about," Lankford said.
This is the event's second year. Last year, Lankford said about 200 families registered for the event. This year, the number was about 800.
This year, Science Sleuth was also part of the MU Life Sciences & Society Symposium. The symposium is an annual, week-long event to bridge the gap between scientists and the public.
As children and their families moved from station to station, they toted cards with blank spaces. Each station they visited had an assigned letter. The letters were stamped onto their cards until they had a complete card that read, "Get Messy. Have Fun. Do Science."
There was also a benefit for teachers whose students showed up for the event. Teachers with at least 10 students from their class in attendance will receive a kit with science activities they can do in class. Lankford said this was a way to encourage continued interest in the activities from the day.
For some of the older kids, the event augmented career aspirations. Beth Joffe, 10, said she wants to be a veterinarian. She told her mom, Lisa Joffe, that the event made her more interested in science. She could see herself taking more science classes and studying veterinary medicine at MU.
Joffe said that because Beth will be entering middle school next year, she will be too old to attend the event, which was designed for elementary school students. She said she'd love it if there were an age-appropriate event for older children.
But for Ben and his friends, the career prospects that could come from science were far from mind. After Ben finished adding pieces to his building, he and his friend chased each other around it. They ducked in and out of the structure while giggling.
For them, science was just pure fun.
Supervising editor is Edward Hart.