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STEM leaders wow and inspire local fifth graders from Harrison Road Elementary

The dark hall echoed with oohs and aahs as Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Director of Academic Engagement Michael Clark created a brilliant spark with the wave of a wand. It wasn’t magic that Clark was conjuring; it was science. But for the fifth graders of Harrison Road Elementary School, it was a magical experience.

Clark demonstrated the dielectric effect using a Van De Graaff generator. Sparks generate when the negatively charged wand is brought closer to the positively charged dome of the generator.

The fifth graders were on a field trip last month to the University of Mary Washington (UMW). Clark, along with engineers Elliott Armstrong and Steve Archer, set up in the Cedric Rucker University Center to provide the students with STEM-related demonstrations. The event was a continuation of the partnership between NSWCDD and UMW in promoting STEM learning and opportunities for area K-12 students.

The STEM demonstrations focused on how electricity can create magnetism and vice versa. The demos included using the Van De Graaff generator and a Rapunzel doll to show the effects of static electricity on hair, the conductive qualities of steel versus copper and a tabletop model of a working railgun, which showed how electricity and magnets could be combined to launch projectiles.

Armstrong came away from the event feeling encouraged by the progress made in elementary education. He was impressed by how much the students already knew about circuits, electricity and magnets. “It is important to show future generations of scientists and engineers the possibilities and end products of what they learn in school,” he said. “What we’re doing inspires them and promotes their curiosity and creativity.”

Clark agreed. “I love seeing students’ interest and excitement grow during these demonstrations. All it takes is for them to experience one cool thing to really pique their interest,” said Clark. “Once we provide that cool thing, we can get them hooked. I definitely saw that a few times during this event.”

Photos courtesy U-S Navy

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