Getting Hands-On with Science at Lamont: Open House 2016

Thousands of visitors toured the labs and crowded around demonstrations at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s Open House on Saturday, often jumping in to help.

Stacy Morford
October 14, 2016

Professor Marc Spiegelman has a favorite saying at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory Open House: "Clean hands are not learning hands!"

By that measure and by the smiles on faces, Lamont had a lot of very happy learners on Saturday as the Earth Observatory, Columbia University’s home for Earth science research, invited the public to campus for a day of hands-on science experiments, demonstrations, and conversations with some of the world's leading scientists in the Earth, environmental, and climate sciences.

Three thousand visitors toured the labs and crowded around demonstrations, often jumping in to help, as you’ll see in the photo slideshow below. They simulated volcanic eruptions, listened to earthquakes, and examined tiny fossils through microscopes in the Core Repository. The Dyhrman Lab brought out a rainbow of microscopic phytoplankton and explained why, when you take a breath, you should thank an oxygen-producing phytoplankton. Spiegelman used a bathtub filled with a cornstarch concoction to show how rocks inside the Earth could behave as both liquid and solid, viscous and brittle. (Watch his demo in the video above.)

Scientists also led geology tours on campus and a dendro eco-hike to explore Lamont's forest history through tree-ring analysis. And they led a series of talks about the latest research on topics including extreme weather, the planet’s changing ice, and earthquakes (links to watch those talks are below).

John Park's three children were excited about Ben Holtzman's Seismic Sound Lab earthquake demo. The best part of the Lamont Open House in Park's view: “The interaction that the kids have with the different exhibits. The earthquake one was super cool; the one where you’re in the room and you hear everything going around. I think the kids got a really good understanding – their senses were engaged at the same time they were understanding what actually is going on an earthquake.”

“It’s just an amazing opportunity to expose them to science, to have these hands-on experiments,” said Dawn Cafer, whose 6-year-old son Lucas was running for the next demonstration tent.

"We had a magical time," Noah Green wrote. "Thank you for getting our 6-year-old daughter excited about science."

Up in Monell Auditorium, six of Lamont’s leading scientist gave talks about their latest projects and discoveries, each representing one of the Earth Observatory’s strategic initiatives. The presentation videos are all now available online to rewatch or, for those who were too busy getting their hands into Earth science experiments on Saturday, to see for the first time.

Watch the Lamont Open House science talks:

Ryan Abernathey and Tim Crone: Real-Time Earth: Realizing the Future of Earth Science

Donna Shillington: Anticipating Earthquakes

Suzana Camargo: Hurricanes and Typhoons: Past, Present and Future

Robin Bell: Exploring the Changing Ice

Park Williams: The Impact of Human-caused Warming on Drought and Fire in the Western United States