St. A students find science a cool blast

Science surrounds us and can be a lot of fun to put into practice.

Xander Sinclair (right)

Xander Sinclair (right)

Science surrounds us and can be a lot of fun to put into practice.

That’s exactly what the Grade 4, 5 and 6 students at St. Augustine School found out first hand, and up close, when Dr. Lucio Gelmini performed a number of experiments and demonstrations at the school on Friday, Jan. 15 as a way to learn more about science, chemical reactions and to better understand just how fun science can be.

The nearly two-hour long presentation taught the students some basics about how chemistry and chemical reactions affect people on a daily basis, which included some fun and sometimes explosive results such as huge bubble explosions, rocketing pop bottles and sonic booming balloons.

Dr. Gelmini, who is an instructor of chemistry and past chair of the subject at MacEwan University in Edmonton, hopes this kind of presentation will get children more involved in their science classes and remember just how great this presentation was.

“I want kids to look at something fun and interesting. As well, I want to show the teachers some things that they can use in their classes,” said Gelmini, who is also the chair of the Edmonton Science Outreach Network.

“Ultimately, it would be great to increase the number of kids who take science in high school and in university.”

Gelmini has been doing similar presentations for the better part of last 20 years, since his children were in pre-school, and the reason he started are the same reasons he continues to do them.

“At first, it was to help teachers that taught my children. Then it was to educate and entertain kids, showing them that science is fun and interesting and something that will help them explain what is going on in the world around them,” he said.

“When I realized how much the teachers and kids appreciated this, I started to offer it to other teachers (always going to my kids classes at their schools, of course). Now it is something that I don’t advertise, people will call on me and I go to schools across the province.”

About 16 years ago, Gelmini only did about three or four per year, but he finds it very difficult to say no. So now, that figure averages about 125 the most he has done in one year is 150 and typically is done in front of about 40 to 60 students, but has ‘performed’ in front of large audiences, as big as 550. That includes large school presentations, the famous children’s festival in St. Albert as well numerous conferences for teachers, young scientists and other organizations and events.

“I love seeing the looks on the kids faces when they see what happens next. I love talking to them and answering question they have about the world around them and I really love it when they come to me and tell me that they really want to be a scientist,” he said, noting his presentations have reached about 120,000 kids over the past 15 years.

“I have teachers come up to me and tell me about kids that were never very actively engaged who come alive through the presentation. I have received hundreds of letters from children in grades 2 to 6 telling me what they liked about the presentation and how they want to be scientists and chemists.

“Alberta has a knowledge-based economy and we need scientists and engineers. I keep doing them because I love the joy and amazement that the kids show for the presentation. I meet people in the streets or at MacEwan University that say that they have taken in my presentation and have looked at getting into science. These kids are the future scientists and I just wanted to be involved in helping them decide what careers are available to them.”

In addition, Gelmini has not been collecting anything for his presentations. Instead, he is using the opportunity to help raise funds for cancer research.

“I don’t charge for mileage or chemicals or my time. Lately, my mileage has been paid for by the Alberta Science Network, who talk to schools about my chemistry demos. During this time, I occasionally ask the schools if their kids would help out in raising funds for cancer research through a voluntary donation of spare change or a loonie or toonie,” he stated.

“I have been doing that for the last 10 or so years. My father died of lung cancer in 2009 and I had cancer treatments finish in May of 2015. I have participated in the Walk to End Breast Cancer and the Ride to Conquer Cancer and have supported others in these endeavors. Through these demos, we have raised about $60,000 over the last 10 years.”

Gelmini is also part of a few other projects that work to show people how interesting everyday science can be.

For the last four years, he has been part of a Harry Potter-based kids’ program at schools in Edmonton as well as evening science shows. Plus, he is on the executive of the local section of the Chemical Institute of Canada that puts together chemistry activities for adults as well.

“We put together chemistry activities such as this week’s topic the chemistry of scotch,” he said.

“We have done the chemistry of beer, wine, coffee, tea, a turkey diner, chocolate, cheese and ice cream along with some more academic talks for the public to attend.”