Affordable materials for geoscience teaching demonstrations

Field Report: DIYnamics in the New York City Scientist-in-Residence Program

[Note from Spencer: This post is part of our ongoing Field Reports series, where DIYnamics users across the world share how they’ve used the DIYnamics kit and materials in local communities.]

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity of participating in the Scientist-in-Residence Program for the 2021-2022 academic year. This was for a general STEM enrichment class at 75 Morton (aka MS 297). The lesson took place on October 26, 2021. Under the program, I have designed a series of lectures and demonstrations for two middle school classes (7th and 8th grades) centered around atmospheric science and fluid dynamics. For the introductory lesson, we started with the dynamics of fluids in rotating planes in order to understand how our atmospheres and oceans respond to the Earth’s rotation. At the middle school level, a lecture on fluid dynamics is greatly aided with the use of a physical demonstration that the children can use to grasp the theoretical ideas proposed to them. We employed a rotating tank provided by DIYnamics to give the kids a physical understanding of how fluids move in a rotating plane.

Using the guidelines set by DIYnamics, we gave the kids a few different situations (i.e. stationary fluid versus a rotating fluid) and had them hypothesize how they believed our trackers (in this case food coloring) would act in each situation. Giving the kids a bit of agency, we had volunteers come up and set the trackers in the fluids. Then, using a classroom projector, we projected the birds-eye-view of the tank so that the class could easily see the motion of the tracker element, and as a group we made observations about the path of the food coloring. We eventually added horizontal gradients into the mixture (using either a stirring stick or a simulated temperature gradient) to give the kids a way to visualize eddies and understand their source. Overall, the kids loved having the practical demonstration as the starting lesson for our SIR series and they built up a lot of intuition into basic fluid dynamic principles.