IVCC to host annual SciFest, featuring more than 50 interactive stations

Chem Club students conceive, manage the stations

Ryland Maltas of DePue plays in geological glowing sand during the annual Scifest on Friday, April 21, at Illinois Valley Community College  in Oglesby.

Illinois Valley Community College’s annual SciFest is gearing up again to get children – and adults – fired up about science.

The free event runs from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 19, in the gym.

The event will feature dancing flames, a sandbox transformed into a bubbling sea and a science professor lying comfortably on a bed of nails waiting for someone to splinter a chunk of concrete on his chest.

Matthew Johll’s bed-of-nails exhibition isn’t a magician’s trick or an illusion. It’s science, as are all the 50-plus interactive stations set up in the gym. Even if signature demonstrations are handled by experts, there’s still plenty of room in them for the audience to get their hands dirty harmlessly.

“This isn’t a science show” the audience comes to just watch, Johll said.

“We want participation,” he added. “We want people to become curious and to make memories, not just to be entertained.”

The event that draws hundreds each spring burst on the Illinois Valley event scene in 2013 as the sponsoring college Chem & STEM club prepared to celebrate Chem’s 50th anniversary. The chem club is the oldest American Chemical Society Club at a two-year college in the country, Johll said.

Area science teachers, sometimes accompanied by their own classes, volunteer to assist in the demonstrations. Chem Club students conceive and manage the stations. SciFest becomes like a homecoming reunion to dozens of alumni who come back to help – many who remember coming to their first SciFest as schoolchildren.

“My students are challenged to come up with new experiments that can be fun,” Johll said, recalling one student musician’s idea – the flame sound tube – that became an audience favorite. A tube of flame weaves as it responds to sound waves produced from a keyboard. Working from an idea he’d seen in a video, the student also crafted a device to bring the effect to life.

In managing SciFest, Johll said, students absorb project management lessons they wouldn’t get in a classroom. One student claimed an undergraduate seat in a prestigious medical school on the strength of SciFest’s transformative role in his life – and just this spring graduated as an MD.

Audiences never seem to tire of the demonstrations, and favorites of the past continue to fascinate new generations, Johll said.

Among them aree:

3D visualization software used over a sandbox creates a colorful topographical map of a surface which changes as the sand is shifted. Virtual rivers and waterfalls appear, and it even rains.

A 55-gallon barrel implodes, illustrating air pressure conditions that can create enough force to crumple rail or highway tankers.

A fluidized sand bed demonstration illustrates how sand behaves like a fluid when air is pumped through it just right. As air escapes between the sand particles, items placed in the sand float or sink.

And Johll’s bed of nails and concrete-crushing demonstration? It’s all in the distribution of weight or energy.

The man who’s become known on the street as “that bed of nails guy” admits his nerves tingle more anticipating the aim of the sledgehammer-wielder than from sharp points on his spine. As the audience holds its breath in anticipation, the impact of hammer on block produces only a puff of exhaled breath, and no pain, from Johll.

Tim Nagel prepares ice cream during the annual Scifest on Friday, April 21, at Illinois Valley Community College  in Oglesby.
Have a Question about this article?