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updated: 4/14/2013 5:26 PM

Liquid nitrogen, explosions and Newton's Laws at Fermilab show

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  • A hydrogen-filled balloon explodes in an instant as former Naperville North High School science teacher Lee Marek ignites it in a dark auditorium at Fermi Lab in Batavia Sunday during a Weird Science presentation.

       A hydrogen-filled balloon explodes in an instant as former Naperville North High School science teacher Lee Marek ignites it in a dark auditorium at Fermi Lab in Batavia Sunday during a Weird Science presentation.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Fremd High School science teacher Karl Craddock carries cheese balls frozen by liquid nitrogen through the audience at Fermi Lab in Batavia Sunday during a Weird Science presentation. Several local teachers took the stage and amazed a packed audience with explosions and comedy.

       Fremd High School science teacher Karl Craddock carries cheese balls frozen by liquid nitrogen through the audience at Fermi Lab in Batavia Sunday during a Weird Science presentation. Several local teachers took the stage and amazed a packed audience with explosions and comedy.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Former Naperville North High School science teacher Lee Marek lights a balloon filled with hydrogen and oxygen during a Weird Science presentation at Fermi Lab in Batavia Sunday.

       Former Naperville North High School science teacher Lee Marek lights a balloon filled with hydrogen and oxygen during a Weird Science presentation at Fermi Lab in Batavia Sunday.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
By Tara Garcia Mathewson
tgarciamathewson@dailyherald.com

Shea Leonard, 9, of Palatine, got to taste a cheese ball covered in liquid nitrogen Sunday.

"At first, it tasted like you're sucking on ice that just will not melt," Leonard said after Fermilab's annual Wonders of Science Show in Batavia. "Eventually it warmed up and it tasted like a cheese ball."

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Liquid nitrogen is cold enough to give a person frostbite, but the surface area on the snacks is small enough that chewing the puff ball doesn't hurt. It does freeze over your breath, though, making whoever is doing the chewing look like they are exhaling smoke.

The theme of this year's Wonders of Science show -- which has been going strong for more than a quarter-century -- focused on acceleration. Chemistry and physics teachers Lee Marek, Karl Craddock and Bill Grosser ran the show, wowing kids and adults alike with fire, explosions and tricks. This year's theme focused on how to get particles to speed up or slow down and what happens when they do.

Leonard said she was glad to learn more about Newton's Laws of motion, especially the third one, which says every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Her favorite part of the show was when Marek filled a Pringles can with hydrogen and launched it like a rocket after tapping it with a match. Once enough oxygen seeped into the can, it caused a miniature explosion, which propelled the rocket in the opposite direction as the energy burst -- up.

Emma Saenz, 11, of South Barrington, got to help out onstage as Grosser, a chemistry teacher at Oak Park and River Forest High School, demonstrated one of the few experiments attendees will be able to repeat at home.

Grosser set four cups of water on a table, covered them with a square of cardboard and then balanced eggs on top of three cardboard tubes standing on the square. Saenz got to release a broomstick handle against the setup, striking the cardboard and transferring all its energy. The eggs didn't absorb any of the energy because they weren't directly touching the cardboard so as it and the tubes flew sideways, the eggs dropped into the waiting cups of water. Well, three of them did, anyway.

About 600 people packed the Fermilab auditorium for the show that has been pleasing crowds for decades.

"Kids love science," Grosser said. "The inquisitive nature is natural to them." He said he hopes the experiments he demonstrated Sunday along with Marek and Craddock inspire kids to go even further with science.

With complimentary bags filled with tools and instructions for experiments in hand, many attendees weren't even planning to wait the entire afternoon before digging in.

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