By Ryan Powers
Over the past few weeks, the museum has hosted “Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine,” a travelling exhibit from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In addition to the formal exhibit, the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery has brought in local scientists each Saturday to demonstrate real science in a Harry Potter context — often while dressed as Hogwarts professors.
This Saturday’s afternoon program consisted of hovering discs, jumping magnets, floating objects and a couple dozen young, eager and open minds. The demonstration was organized by Dr. Mark Lucas of Ohio University’s physics department. Lucas leads many outreach programs for people of all ages, including an open house every two years that he jokes is for grades “K through 99.” Saturday’s Harry Potter exhibit, however, was targeted toward young children. As Dr. Gang Chen said, the goal was to “use what kids are familiar with” to spark their interest in science.
Lucas explained why he places importance on scientific outreach programs for children as he guided them, one by one, on a hovering disc suspended by a connected tube pushing air down toward the ground. “Kids are some of the best scientists around,” Lucas claimed. He cited their natural curiosity and ignorance of boundaries regarding what can and cannot be done. By nurturing their inner scientists early, Lucas said he hopes to preserve these qualities to ensure that questions about the universe continue to be answered and asked in meaningful ways.
When asked why he used Harry Potter to do so, Lucas said he just needed “a good excuse to pull out the toys.”
The belief that children are some of the world’s best scientists was shared with other volunteers at the exhibit as well, including Chen. Chen is the adviser for the Society of Physics Students, or SPS. His exhibit station hosted a magnetically charged tube that, when turned on, forced magnetic rings to shoot up into the air. One ring was chipped and could not work anymore — unless one asked the child that attempted to repair it with a ribbon. Chen fondly recalled this event and stated that children “are really good problem solvers.” This natural inclination to solve problems is what the OU physics department hopes to preserve, he said.
Time will tell if they were successful in that regard, but how successful was the exhibit in increasing childhood interest in science? Chen said he believed that the exhibit “has been a success” in doing so. Zachary Wakeley, local six-year-old and first grade student, stated that the exhibit was, in fact, good and interesting. However, when asked if he learned anything, he responded with a blunt “no,” and a shake of the head. Wakeley said that he thought more of magic than science during the exhibit. However, Wakeley also expressed that he is more interested in science now than he was before.
President of the SPS, Samantha Thrush, was also in attendance. Thrush is an OU junior and astrophysics major who became interested in her field at the age of twelve. She said she was passionate about reaching out to children about science, believing that something that can actually happen is “more amazing” than fictional events. She said she hopes that the room full of once prospective wizards will leave knowing “You don’t need magic for something to be magical.”