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Interactive Science at the Polar Science Weekend

Troy Buckley at fish display
Troy Buckley shows information about fish stomach contents at the "Stinky Slimy Stomachs" activity.

"Eeeuw, that's gross...can I touch it?" Children poked at the remains of a shrimp as they talked about the stomach contents of a fish they had just measured. Kids and adults alike were drawn to hands-on displays by Alaska Fisheries Science Center scientists at the Polar Science Weekend, held 3-6 March 2011, at the Pacific Science Center (PSC) in Seattle, Washington.

AFSC scientists John Jansen, Craig Kastelle, Troy Buckley, and Ivonne Ortiz created activities with AFSC visual information specialist Rebecca White about their research, as part of the PSC's Science Communication Fellowship Program. The program helps bring scientists and public audiences together to promote the understanding and appreciation of current scientific research.

"Polar Detectives" challenged visitors to help solve "the case of the missing ice." John Jansen and colleagues Kym Yano and Shawn Dahle helped junior detectives complete a puzzle of the Arctic, adding seals and other marine mammals to the picture to learn why ice is so important to the animals. Next, participants tossed seals into a mini-Arctic, complete with ice floes, and found out what happens as the global temperature rises and the amount of ice decreases. Finally, they came up with things they could do in their everyday life to make a positive change for the planet.

In Craig Kastelle's "How Old Is a Fish?" activity, visitors searched for otoliths (fish ear bones) in the head of a stuffed fish and discovered how fish are aged.

"This group has no kids!" said one girl as she looked at the age composition of one population of fish, learning why it's important to determine the age of fish.

John Jansen with Arctic puzzle
John Jansen helps kids complete the puzzle of the Arctic.  Photos by Lisa Hiruki-Raring and Shawn Dahle.

At "Stinky Slimy Stomachs," young scientists took a fish from a basket, measured the length and then discovered what it ate, learning that fish of different sizes may eat different prey. Real samples showed the variety of prey found in fish stomachs. Ivonne Ortiz's "Bering Sea Food Webs" complemented the food habits activity by creating food webs that integrated science and art.

Asked about his participation in the Polar Science Weekend, Jansen replied, "We struck a good balance between simple fun, education, and imparting some personal responsibility. It was rewarding to have the kids understand the link between humans, climate, ice and seals, and then sense the importance of the message and genuinely want to help."

Polar Science Weekend, now in its sixth year, is an annual event presented jointly by the PSC and the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory, funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Funding from the North Pacific Research Board also supported some of the AFSC activities.

Lisa Hiruki-Raring

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