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Children Aim to be Masters of Fire and Lightning

June 19 was the first day of the week-long Lightning Bolt Dragons camp at Rock-it Science (www.rockitscience.com), a Santa Clara-based non-profit organization. According to Rock-it Science’s website, the camp allowed children to become “a master of fire and lightning” by executing a number of experiments including making lightning bolts and producing fire from ice.” In addition to offering summer camps, Rock-it Science also works with homeschoolers as well as afterschool and in-school programs and conducts field trips.

“I want kids to enjoy science and technology so they would consider it as a career,” said John McChesney (also known as Mr. Mac), founder of Rock-it Science. “We’re trying to develop a high level of enthusiasm for it.”

With tongs, learners picked up flowers and pieces of bread and fruit. Then they dipped them into a solution of dry ice and acetone and assessed the items’ new texture. The frozen items were either brittle or rock hard.

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“Dry ice is solid carbon dioxide; it’s 109 degrees Fahrenheit below zero,” McChesney said. “And if you put things on dry ice, such as your skin, it freezes it. If you freeze a banana with dry ice, and you take out the banana, it becomes hard as a rock and when you smash it, it breaks into a million pieces.”

Learners also spun hand-crank generators connected to items such as holiday lights, to observe mechanical energy converting into electrical energy.

“Mechanical energy is when something is physically moving; so when a child is pedaling a bicycle, that’s mechanical energy,” McChesney continued. “If there’s a generator on their bicycle wheel and the wheel turns on the generator, that’s mechanical energy from their pedaling converted into electrical energy. Then the electrical energy is just electricity and you can use that to light light bulbs and make motors spin.”

McChesney started his career as a robotics engineer. During the 1980s, while setting foot in various companies as a consultant, he noticed something amiss about the workforce.

“Companies were getting students with good grades but not people with good people skills or practical skills,” McChesney said. “We had kids who were amazingly smart and couldn’t work with other people.”

During this time, McChesney began creating science lessons based on experiments he did while he was an engineering student at San Jose State University. His lessons intend to teach young learners engineering, problem solving and teamwork skills.

“I was totally surprised when these five-year-old children could solve these difficult problems,” McChesney said. “Before Rock-it Science was started, I had a non-profit called Wizard’s Workshop and I would go to public schools to work with kids on science. This was way more fun than the engineering work. I did this from 1987 to 1998 for about 11 years.”

In 1998, McChesney changed the name of his organization to Rock-it Science. He credited Joseph Kleitman, former Mayor of Mountain View, for supporting his endeavor.

“We were initially located at Moffett Field in Mountain View; then 9/11 happened and then all the military bases closed so Moffett Field closed,” McChesney said. “So we had to rent a warehouse in Santa Clara. We’ve been here in Santa Clara since 2003.”

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