VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. –
Two years ago, the pandemic halted Naval Air Station Oceana’s yearly air show. The annual event roared back this year with the screaming sound of jet engines and the concussive blasts from fiery explosions along the flight line. Adding to the glorious cacophony on the first day were an estimated 5,300 fifth-graders from Virginia Beach area schools.
It wasn’t just parachutes and planes vying for the students’ attention. Scientists and engineers from Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division Dam Neck Activity (NSWCDD DNA) provided their time to host STEM-related programs for the kids to explore. Set up in a corner of Hangar 56 alongside other organizations such as NASA and the Virginia Department of Transportation, the volunteers fascinated students with demonstrations and hands-on activities.
NSWCDD DNA STEM Lead James Knarr said the Van de Graaff generator was a popular attraction. The device uses friction to produce a large static charge on a metal dome. The students had fun shocking their friends and having their hair stand up as they held onto the dome. “I saw many of the same kids return to the generator over and over,” Knarr said. “They were having a great time with it.”
Hermitage Elementary School counselor Chelsea Katz said her students were captivated by the STEM display and couldn’t get enough of the static electricity demonstration. While Katz and her fellow educators had to stay on their toes to keep track of their excited students in the crowded environment, they also valued the experience. “I appreciate that my fifth-graders had the opportunity to explore the future possibilities that STEM-related fields can provide,” she said.
Another STEM activity included a table where students could make their own slime out of raw materials to demonstrate a non-Newtonian fluid. Non-Newtonian fluids do not follow Newton’s laws of viscosity. The viscosity of these types of fluids can change under force to either more solid or more liquid. Readiness and Training Systems Department Chief Scientist Barry Stevens commented that the slime making created quite a stir among the students. “Once they started stirring the mixture, they frequently gasped in surprise as the slime formed and stuck to their stirring sticks,” he said. ”One student loudly said, ‘I like chemistry!’”
The two robotic stations included drawing courses for line-following robots called OzoBots and a remote-controlled explosives ordinance disposal (EOD) robot. The students were provided the opportunity to operate the EOD robot with an Xbox-style controller.
Cmdr. Christina Carino joined the volunteers in interacting with the children. As commanding officer of NSWCDD DNA, she believes that community support is integral to the installation’s mission. “An important aspect of our outreach is to recognize and develop the talent around us in the hopes that some of these bright kids will want to work with us one day.”
Carino enjoyed watching the students experience the STEM stations. While competing for their attention with the scream of the jets and the boom of the explosions, she said, “It was a great opportunity to educate the students on programs outside of flying or going to sea. We showed them you can be a scientist or engineer and still serve the Navy.”