Clemson scientists are star attractions at Roper Mountain’s ‘Space Day 2017’
GREENVILLE — The coast-to-coast total solar eclipse that will pass directly over Clemson Aug. 21 is still more than five months away, but Clemson University scientists are already making appearances at events leading up to the grand spectacle.
On March 11, more than 1,200 kids from around the Upstate poured into the sprawling Roper Mountain Science Center complex for “Space Day 2017,” a daylong event that featured scientists, educators and dozens of hands-on, space-related exhibits. Clemson’s College of Science hosted two events that drew oohs and aahs not just from the students, but from their parents, as well.
Astronomy activities included chalk drawings of the eclipse, paracord bracelets strung with ultraviolet beads, free diffraction glasses and even demonstrations on how to make comets.
“We’re doing a lot of fun stuff for the children that is related to both space and the upcoming eclipse,” said Chad Sosolik, professor of physics and astronomy at Clemson. “Children have wonderful imaginations and are fascinated by stars, planets, comets and asteroids. So we’re doing our part to teach them about space in ways that are fun, but also challenging. The eclipse is months away, but we’re already hard at work spreading the word about just how amazing this event is going to be.”
A total solar eclipse is most often a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The last coast-to-coast solar eclipse in the United States was recorded in 1918. Clemson is located almost dead-center within a slender band of the contiguous U.S. that will be able to view the entirety of the eclipse, which will begin to pass over the Upstate at about 1:07 p.m. and finish around 4:02 p.m. But the totality of the eclipse — the part that viewers will find the most fascinating — will begin around 2:37 p.m. and last less than three minutes.
Clemson University is already making plans to host its own eclipse viewing event on Aug. 21 that will include in-person appearances by College of Science experts, free solar glasses to safely view the eclipse, plenty of parking and open space and a variety of vendors. Clemson officials are planning for a large gathering. Anyone interested in attending the free viewing party will be able to learn more details starting April 3 when clemson.edu/eclipse debuts.
“Several of our activities at ‘Space Day 2017’ are eclipse-related,” said Amber Porter, lecturer in the department of physics and astronomy. “The children are making paracord bracelets with solar beads. The beads contain a color-changing pigment that is sensitive to ultraviolet light. When the kids wear their bracelets outside, the beads will turn an indigo color, which demonstrates that the sun emits ultraviolet light that is invisible to their eyes.”
“I really enjoyed making chalk art drawings of the sun’s corona with the kids because the appearance of the corona marks the one part of the entire eclipse that will be safe to look at directly,” added Andrew Garmon, a graduate student in physics and astronomy. “One of the benefits of coming to Clemson to view the eclipse will be that everyone will be informed as to when it’s safe — and not safe — to look directly at the sun without the use of solar glasses.”
Stephen Bromley, a graduate student in physics and astronomy, was in charge of making the comets, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the “comet table” was one of Space Day’s best-attended attractions, drawing dozens of people at a time.
“For the most part, comets are just dirty snowballs,” Bromley said. “What we’re doing here today is mixing up water, dry ice, dirt and ammonia and making a whole bunch of comets. This one here even looks like a head of cauliflower.”
Eight-year-old Jeremias Frazile of East End Elementary in Pickens was especially impressed by Bromley’s display. “Watching the scientist make the comets was cool. I didn’t know they were made of ice. And I also learned that when you touch dry ice, it can burn you. So I’ll never do that!”
The Clemson Nanomaterials Institute put on a show of its own, including charging cars and providing power for satellites using nanomaterial-based supercapacitors and batteries, converting heat to electricity with nano-engines, and producing electricity with just the slap of a hand. This is the third year in a row for the institute at the Roper Mountain Science Center.
“The kids are amazed to learn that we can generate energy just by tapping a board. In fact, even parents were thrilled to try the hands-on demonstrations of our triboelectric generators,” said Ramakrishna Podila, assistant professor of physics and astronomy. “They’re super-excited to learn about nano things, which are so tiny and yet so important to the advancement of scientific discovery. It’s also a fulfilling experience for our graduate students to display their cutting-edge research.”
“This is our third year here at the Roper Mountain Center sharing the nano world with these little kids, and each time we’ve come, we’ve felt like kids again ourselves,” said Sriparna Bhattacharya, assistant research professor of physics and astronomy. “I’ve met people here from ages 7 to 77. It’s been exciting for all of us, and we’d like to come back next year.”
In addition to Garmon and Bromley, graduate students Michael Bojazi, Achyut Raghavendra, Anthony Childress, Lakshman Ventrapragada, Prakash Parajuli, Sai Mallineni, Xiaoyan Yang and Yongchang Dong also represented Clemson at the event. Undergraduates included Ben Hetherington, Bonni McKinney, Alan Hahn, Emily Maw, Harrison Leiendecker and Patrick Flanagan.