Students explore Star Wars science in Bend

Studying the heat and color of flames

By Tyler Leeds / The Bulletin


Published Jun 25, 2014 at 12:01AM / Updated Jun 25, 2014 at 06:55AM

Educational news and activities, and local kids and their achievements.

• School Notes and submission info, B2

Bryce White, 9, was so taken with the power to see the full color spectrum hidden within white light that he surreptitiously stuffed a pair of diffraction glasses into his shirt Tuesday, crossing into the dark side at the Bend Science Station’s Jedi Academy.

But Bryce strayed only briefly, as he readily handed the cardboard and plastic glasses back to his instructor with almost no prompting.

The class’s exploration of diffraction capped a morning of Star Wars-inspired science experiments focused on exploring what can be learned about a star’s temperature and composition from studying its color.

“Our primary goal is to get kids into the lab conducting experiments, and we do our best to embed it into a theme that might be interesting to kids, whether it’s the Jedi Academy or the Hogwarts Academy,” said David Bermudez, the station’s executive director, who is known to students as “Bermi.”

On Monday, the camp’s first day, students explored real-world incarnations of the force by working with magnetism and electricity to manipulate iron filings. On Tuesday, Bunsen burners stood in for stars as students measured the temperature of flames and used chemicals to change the fire into hues of red, orange and — to the class’s greatest amusement — green.

Dustin Johnson, 10, gouged the archipelago of his flame with an electronic thermocouple, attempting to find the hottest part in an effort to discern whether blue or orange flames are hotter, and, as a result, which color stars emit the most heat.

After considering the data, Johnson concluded, “Blue is way, way hotter.”

Sophie App-Singer, 9, who earlier declared it’s a good thing humans can’t travel at warp speed, correctly pointed out that the blue flame had more oxygen, and thus could burn more intensely.

After measuring flame temperature, students were given small wooden sticks to soak in color-inducing chemicals like lithium chloride and copper sulfate. Bryce got the most out of his equipment, holding his sticks in the flame until the color burned off and the stick caught fire — but just the regular yellow kind — before dunking it in water.

“Maybe it’s changing the temperature of the fire,” Bryce guessed, conjecturing how the chemicals were able to affect the flame’s color.

After the gas valves were turned off, Bermudez took a second to praise the room of 10 students.

“I’m impressed. We had the burners running for 45 minutes and no one got hurt,” he half-joked.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com