Last month, 600 third, fourth, and fifth-grade students in North Tahoe, Truckee, and Glenshire ventured through rain and snow to the Tahoe Environmental Research Center in Incline Village for a Science Expo. During three days, March 16 to 18, in more than 20 hands-on science projects erected indoors on the Sierra Nevada College campus, the kids sampled experiments in the physical, earth, space, and life sciences. They discovered, for example, how water erodes away dirt and debris, how dinosaurs over time become fossils, and how runoff from rain and snow moves from population centers back into the natural environment.  

Many of the students reported at the beginning of the event that they didn’t consider themselves scientists. After conducting the experiments, many of them changed their minds: They were scientists, after all.

‘I like science,’ says Olivia Omar, 11, who attended the expo with her Expedition Learning School classmates on March 18. ‘I like to learn how things work and move, and how things begin. I like comparing the fossils as they were a million years ago to what they are now.’

Along with half a dozen other students at a weather and stream experiment, Omar watched running water erode a hand-formed dam made of heavy sand to learn how weather and precipitation affect stream flow and erosion. When Omar asked how long it takes for the water to force a new passageway through the sand, Tom Mathis, an intern with the research center, explained, ‘It depends on the amount of water and the type of material. Dirt will be moved more quickly than rocks. Water has a lot of tricks for making new channels.’

In another experiment, My-Linh Nguyen, a professional engineer with the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, facilitated an investigation that demonstrated the processes related to groundwater percolation and the effects of pollution on aquifers and domestic drinking water supplies.

The science expo was started five years ago by two Incline Village moms, Mary Danahey and Jeanne Miraglia. It is now produced every three years by the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center. The public was invited to one session on March 16. Susie Scoops of Incline Village provided ice cream.

‘The philosophy of the event is fairly simple: to ignite student interest in science through serendipitous experiences that communicate fundamental concepts,’ says DC Larrabee, who organized the expo along with Danahey and Heather Segale, of TERC. ‘The intent is for every child to walk away from the expo with the belief that they are a scientist.’  ~ Laura Read