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Kids compound science with fall fun at Chemtoberfest

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POTSDAM — Children cheered and gasped and got their hands dirty Friday while learning about science at SUNY Potsdam’s third annual Chemtoberfest.

The event mixes the atmosphere of a science fair and a fall festival, with a slate of activities that aspires to be as educational as entertaining.

The day proved a popular field trip for area elementary, middle and high school classes. Kids watched a magic show that demonstrated scientific principles in between live music and dance performances, all while munching on carmel apples and cotton candy.

A small pool of “oobleck” was particularly popular. The substance is made simply by mixing cornstarch and water, and normally it acts just like any other liquid. But when subjected to quick, sudden pressure it will rapidly harden, allowing volunteers to run across the pool of liquid without sinking.

“It’s pretty awesome,” said Caiden Woodrow, a 6th-grader from Hermon-Dekalb Central School.

Flashy, fun science is the whole point of Chemtoberfest, according to event organizier John C. Proetta.

“We try to show chemistry in the light of everyday life,” he said.

Mr. Proetta is a 2010 SUNY Potsdam graduate, and a current adjunct instructor of chemistry at the college. He created Chemtoberfest three years ago to present chemistry outside of a typical classroom.

“I make it a show, I make it a spectacle,” he said.

It’s not just educational for the kids, he added, but also for the SUNY Potsdam science students who volunteer. They need to learn to make complicated subjects accessible and easy for children to learn.

“It gets them to be in their element, pun intended,” Mr. Proetta said.

Sean T. Atkinson, of Long Island, is a senior studying biochemistry. He has volunteered at all three Chemtoberfests, and said this year’s is the busiest so far.

“It’s a great way to get the community involved in the department,” he said.

High school chemistry teacher Mark T. Lee agrees. He brought a group of his 8th and 9th graders from Colton-Pierrepont Central School to the festival.

“It lets students see some of the fascinating things science can do,” he said.

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