What better way to spend an afternoon than letting gooey cornstarch ooze between your fingers?

Brothers Reid and Quinn Adams experimented with the quicksand made of cornstarch and water at Bio-X Kids' Science Day. (Photo: Linda Cicero)
Brothers Reid and Quinn Monahan experimented with the quicksand made of cornstarch and water at Bio-X Kids Science Day. (Photo: Linda Cicero)

What better way to spend a sunny Friday afternoon than letting a gooey cornstarch slurry ooze between your grubby fingers? Perhaps investigating the bacteria of your nose (the outside) is more of an end-of-the-week treat. Or, as in the case of some visitors to the 10th annual Stanford Bio-X Kids Science Day, maybe high-fiving a long-suffering robot appeals.

Whatever the future scientist’s interest, 15 booths of interactive activities held something for all of the close to 200 kids who showed up to the Clark Center courtyard June 13. In the 10 years of this event, HEIDEH FATTAEY, executive director of operations and programs for Bio-X, said that around 2,000 kids have come to learn about science and have fun – and by extension, to discover that learning about science is fun.

Other booths had an array of magnets to investigate, pools of water with a collection of toys for learning about mass and volume and a demonstration of the 50-cent paper microscope developed by MANU PRAKASH, assistant professor of bioengineering, and his lab.

Every 20 minutes or so, an explosion from an air-powered, T-shirt-shooting robot interrupted the festivities (finders, keepers on the T-shirt). In the center of the courtyard, undergraduate student TONY PRATKANIS  stood watch over the PS2 personal robot, not far from a bubble machine that held several kids in thrall.

The robot had, on another day, made an independent coffee run for the lab of J. KENNETH SALISBURY, professor (research) of computer science and of surgery. On this day, the robot was set to dole out high-fives and, importantly when dealing with a throng of small children, to move its rotating robotic limbs away from touch. Or from kicks, depending on the child’s high-fiving style.

The afternoon is intended not just to abuse robots, play with goo, get wet and end up with a balloon, painted face and Popsicle. It’s about encouraging the next generation of scientists who will be picking up biomedical innovation where today’s Bio-X faculty leave off. Case in point, Fattaey said she talked with a high school student who is will be doing a summer internship in a Clark Center lab.

“He said seeing all the kids have fun brought back memories of when he attended Kids Science Day,” she said.

—By Amy Adams