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  • Always one of the professors' favorite demonstrations is lighting up the methane bubbles.
    05/19/17

    Energy and U explodes off the stage with nearly 6,000 attendees

Energy and U, once again, exploded this week with eight days of shows running through Thursday, May 25, including 14 shows for public school students and one special Saturday matinee show for the general public, which quickly sold out. There were about 400 attendees per show. 

Led by its director Professor David Blank, Energy and U is geared toward students in 3rd grade through 6th grade. There is a concentrated recruitment effort targeted at schools with students from under-represented groups in the sciences. 

By the numbers

Nothing delights a professor, including Marc Hillmyer, more than igniting a young student's interest in science or showing them that science can be fun by blowing up balloons.
Nothing delights a professor, including Marc Hillmyer, more than igniting a young student's interest in science or showing them that science can be fun by blowing up balloons.

By the numbers for the May shows: 56 schools, 5,520 students and their adult chaperones, with the total averaging about 55 percent “students of color” and from underrepresented groups in the sciences, and about 56 percent of the students receiving free and reduced-priced lunch, which is an indicator of poverty. Most of the students are from Minneapolis and Saint Paul Public Schools; however, Braham, which is located about 58 miles from the Twin Cities, is attending. 

Reimbursement of bus transportation costs is a determining factor for a majority of the schools attending. Of the 56 schools attending, 27 indicated that the full reimbursement of bus transportation costs, provided thanks to the generous support of the show’s sponsors, was a critical factor enabling them to participate, and another 18 schools said that reimbursement would be helpful. 

Lots of commitment

It takes a lot of hands to make the shows possible, including the hard work of the show’s seven presenters—professors David Blank, Cari Dutcher from Mechanical Engineering, Renee Frontiera, Christy Haynes, Marc Hillmyer and Aaron Massari from Chemistry, and Sarah Swisher from Electrical and Computer Engineering. Lecture Demonstration Director Joe Franek prepares the demonstrations and explosions focused on energy for all of the shows. Four staff members work with the show, including Chemistry Communications Coordinator Eileen Harvala who handles publicity, logistics, and arrangements for students coming to the show. Jennifer Henderson and Laura Seifert from the Center for Sustainable Polymers, and Kelsi Klaers from the College of Science & Engineering outreach program provide much-needed assistance as the second leaders for the shows. One undergraduate student is usually involved; this year’s volunteer leader is Jordan Guggisberg. A cadre of 37 much-appreciated volunteers helps with the shows, working with the students, escorting students to and from the buses (no matter the weather), serving as fire safety monitors, and willingly performing all other duties as assigned. 

Professor Renee Frontiera sets of a large glow stick.
Professor Renee Frontiera sets of a large glow stick.

Rich collaborative partnership

Energy and U has become a rich collaborative made possible due to the strong partnership that has been created with the Department of Theatre Arts & Dance and the Rarig Center, and the commitment of its Chair Marcus Dilliard, Production Manager Anthony Courtright, Technical Director Jason Allyn-Schwerin, Lighting Supervisor William Healey, Audio Media Supervisor Montana Johnson, Production Stage Manager Christine Swartout, and Communications Manager Dennis Behl. In addition to these seven individuals, 30 students work on the show from the theatre department’s scene, electrics and sound/media shops, and house management, including Stage Manager Brian Hirt, Lighting Operator Alex Clark, Audio Operator Logan Rodgers and Julie Zumsted, Media Operator Nick Fetting, Camera/Drone Operators William Erickson and Dan Featherstone, and House Management Laini Devin, Fiona Lotti, and Tyler Quam.

The commitment for those working on the show runs deep. Stage Manager Brian Hirt has worked with the show three times. "I keep asking to stage manage Energy and U because it really gets at a passion of mine, which is helping kids learn about the world and why it's so important to keep learning and understanding it.

"I'm not a scientist, but I can empower the scientists who want to put the future into the hands of women and minorities in science and foster a love of the field through the work that I do," Brian said. "I always have a blast doing the show and every crowd is different so it never feels like the same experience each time.

"Energy is so important! Especially with the world constantly changing and climate change threatening our environment. It helps me feel that I'm helping make a difference in the lives of kids who will go on to be the next scientists and engineers to fight climate change and global warming."

Broad outreach initiative

Invitations to attend the January and May Energy and U shows were sent to all public, private, and parochial schools in the 7-county metro area, which includes more than 5,300 teachers and school officials. The January and May 2017 shows were fully booked, and there are 70 schools, representing about 10,000 students on the waiting list.

Professor Aaron Massari and Lecture Demonstration Director Joe Franek show how different forms of energy can be used to create molten iron in the show's finale.
Professor Aaron Massari and Lecture Demonstration Director Joe Franek show how different forms of energy can be used to create molten iron in the show's finale.