Of Nanomaterials and Nitinol: Philly Materials Day Wows Region’s Young Scientists

Saturday was a hydrophobic, memory alloy, Van der Waals bonding, adhesive, crystallizing, nanofiltering, pixelating, non-Newtonian good time for scores of attendees at the 9th Annual Philly Materials Science and Engineering Day, held at the Bossone Research Enterprise Center.

The signature outreach event for the College of Engineering’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering (MSE), Philly Materials Day drew a highly diverse crowd of nearly 650, with parents and children wandering through two floors of hands-on activities. They bent over tables for closer scrutiny, watched, experimented, and absorbed a dazzling array of information imparted by engineering graduate and undergraduate student volunteers. And if the science wasn’t enough to hold their attention, Tyraine “Grand Hank” Ragsdale, a former research chemist, threw down a STEM musical performance in Mitchell Auditorium.

Among the displays at the free, day-long event were models of an H-47 Chinook and a V-22 Osprey prepared by Philly Materials Day “Gold Sponsor,” The Boeing Company. “Our job as engineers is to go through all the materials we have available and pick the best ones to make these,” one of the presenters explained to rapt groups of children who got close-up views of the model military aircraft.

Solomon Dalton and his mother, Mia, of Philadelphia made lettuce and cucumber “seed bombs” for their home garden. MSE graduate student Jamie Hart explained the behavior of nitinol, which when bathed in a solution warped from a straight “stick” of material into a wand containing the word “ice.” Philly resident K’dynn Ennis made a rainbow bookmark out of colored nail polish. The liquid nitrogen ice cream demo was mobbed.

And Katie and Lyla Otis attended with their father, Jason Otis, who works for Boeing. Katie, an elementary school student, wants to be an engineer because, “my dad’s my best friend and he is my inspiration, and I really want to be an engineer because he just gave me the idea.” Saturday’s event, she said, confirmed her ambitions.

Other displays included Thin Film Bookmarks with Nanoscale Materials; Exploring the Phases of Materials; Fluorescent Molecules for Studying Brain Diseases; The Utility of Instability; Shrinky Dink Polymers; Dye Sensitized Solar Cells with North Penn High School Engineering; a group of students who demonstrated how new roofing materials can generate energy from the tapping of raindrops; three hands-on workshops, and many other activities.

John Muth of New Hope, PA was there with his young niece, Caitlin. “I thought it was surprisingly educational,” said Muth. “It really covered a nice spectrum of scientific principles, from coefficient friction to magnetism to nanotechnology. I even learned something, and it was a nice way to spend some time with my niece. It was all really cool stuff.”

MSE Department Head and Professor Michele Marcolongo was also delighted with the event’s outcome.

“Philly Materials Day continues to be a fun and engaging event for our materials undergraduate and graduate students to engage with our visitors to tell the story of how materials work,” said Marcolongo. “We love to see the excitement on our visitors’ faces as they do their own experiments and experience for themselves the joy of discovery.”

The event was sponsored by Boeing, GKN Powder Metallurgy, the University of Pennsylvania Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter (LRSM), Arkema, Inc., and Johnson Matthey. Partner organizations for the event included MSE, the University of Pennsylvania, The Franklin Institute, and The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.

The Grand Hank STEM Extravaganza
The Grand Hank STEM Extravaganza