GE Global Research Center scientist David Moore took a skewer and poked it through a small balloon.
Miraculously, it didn’t pop — to the amazement of about 200 fourth-graders from the Middleburgh, Schoharie, Sharon Springs, Jefferson and Berne-Knox-Westerlo school districts who were attending Science Day at the facility Thursday.
Magic? No. The secret is to dab a little bit of vegetable or canola oil on the skewer and to under-inflate the balloon, according to David Moore, also known as “Post Doc.”
The skewer is able to push aside the rubbery molecules that make up the balloon and make a seal so it doesn’t pop on contact.
The students also enjoyed watching “Post Doc” and “Ignito” dip items such as a rose or ball into liquid nitrogen, hardening them, then smashing them into tiny pieces.
“It’s pretty cool,” said 9-year-old Jacob Barton of Middleburgh.
The “magic” show was started in 1951 by GE employees Dan Brunelle and Jim Cella, long before Science Day began. It has always been a highlight of the day, according to the other “magician,” Chris “Ignito” Dosch. “Kids always seem to get a big kick out of it,” he said.
The students also got to see the science behind things such as a hydrogen fuel cell and an ultrasound imaging machine during the 24th annual event. This year, GE Global Research selected schools that were hit hard last year by Tropical Storm Irene, according to Mark Osterlitz, an industrial X-ray technician at GE Global Research.
Osterlitz said students get to see fun stuff about science they wouldn’t normally be able to see because some of the equipment is too big to take out of the lab.
Osterlitz and physicist Kirk Wallace showed off the science behind ultrasound imaging, which uses sound waves to take pictures inside the body. They used the dummy “Manny” and found that the source of his stomach pain was a spoon he must have swallowed.
Before the invention of this equipment, Osterlitz said, doctors would have no choice but to open up patients to see what was wrong, and then would have difficulty sewing them back up.
“You could kill your patient by just trying to heal them,” he said.
Students rotated around different displays. At another station, they learned about static electricity. They turned a crank to spin a wheel, generating a static charge that was retained in two cylindrical storage devices. One charge was negative and one was positive, and there was an attraction.
“When the two are high enough in voltage, you can break down the air and you can get a spark,” said retired GE employee John Vierti.
In another display, students placed their hands on an electrostatic machine that collects static charges that are generated by the friction of belts rubbing against other, according to retired GE employee Joe DiPietro.
“Since electrons all have the same charge, they want to repel, so they push apart,” he said.
That creates the static field that raises people’s hair. The effect wasn’t as dramatic as it sometimes is because there was a lot of moisture in the atmosphere Thursday, DiPietro said.
Other students were learning about hydrogen fuel cells and wind turbines.
Debbie Schaffer, a fourth-grade teacher at Schoharie, said it was a good experience.
“It’s a great exposure to things that they’re not familiar with,” she said.
Rebecca Ludewig, 9, of Schoharie, was amazed by the facility.
“This place looks like the future,” she said.