BGSU shines at Ohio State Fair with total solar eclipse STEM presentations for fairgoers

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Bowling Green State University recently took its spirit of innovation and mission of public good on the road to the Ohio State Fair in Columbus to present hands-on STEM activities to fairgoers.

In two sessions led by Dr. Kate Dellenbusch, teaching professor with the BGSU Department of Physics and Astronomy, attendees engaged in activities to prepare them for the upcoming total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024. People within a 124-mile-wide band in Ohio will experience the total solar eclipse, a rare and spectacular event. The last total solar eclipse that was visible in Ohio was in 1806, and after April’s event, the next total solar eclipse in the state will be in 2099.

Titled “Get Ready for the Total Solar Eclipse with BGSU,” the University's events took place July 28 in the Lausche Building as part of The Heart of it All: Ohio Space and Rocket Zone STEM immersion activities, in conjunction with Ohio Department of Higher Education.

Participants learned how to make pinhole projectors out of cereal boxes to use for safe eclipse viewing, participated in a hands-on activity that explored the relative sizes of the sun, Earth and moon, and experienced a gravity well that simulated gravity and the warping of spacetime by mass. The event also provided attendees with a chance to peer through Falcon-themed solar eclipse glasses and they took home handouts on the phases of a solar eclipse as well as space-themed posters featuring Freddie and Frieda Falcon as astronauts.

Dellenbusch was joined by co-presenter and colleague Dr. Glenn Tiede, a fellow teaching professor in the BGSU Department of Physics and Astronomy.

In a relative size activity, Dellenbusch and Tiede used a large beach ball to represent the sun and asked visitors to choose which object in a collection would represent the size of the Earth, given the size of the beach ball sun. The activity drew particular interest from those who very well could be the next generation of scientists in Ohio.

"Kids were often very surprised just how small the Earth is compared to the sun - about 110 Earths could fit side-by-side across the diameter of the sun," Dellenbusch said. "I then also showed them the moon on the same scale and we talked about how the moon will look the same size and block the light from the sun during the solar eclipse. Even though the moon is tiny compared to the Sun, it is much closer to Earth, so they both look the same size in the sky.

"After they chose which ball they thought would represent the Earth, their eyes often got wide when I showed them which one was actually the correct scale for the Earth, given our 42-inch beach ball sun."

A visual component of the University's outreach involved Dellenbusch and Tiede's gravity well demonstration, which represented objects moving in space and the effect that other objects such as planets have on them.

"We brought a large sheet of spandex fabric stretched on a frame, which stretches when a large mass is placed on it. Without a mass on the sheet, it is flat and a small ball bearing will just move in a straight line when pushed," Dellenbusch said. "This is just like an object moving in space far from any masses whose gravity can affect its motion. 

"We then placed a large mass in the center of the spandex sheet, which warps the fabric, creating a 'gravity well' around the mass. Visitors then rolled small ball bearings on the table and tried to get them to orbit around the large central mass. This reproduces effects like objects such as planets - represented by the ball bearings - moving faster when they are closer to the sun - represented by the large central mass. A lot of people, including Freddie and Frieda, also had fun with the hands-on gravity activity." 

The event was just one example of the many ways BGSU makes a difference both in and out of the classroom as University members actively engage with the community to inspire a love for learning, exploration and innovation.

The STEM exhibits were part of a heightened focus by the state of Ohio and Ohio’s public universities at the Ohio State Fair, one that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine praised during his opening-day visit to the fair. 

"The Ohio State Fair is a great opportunity to let kids explore STEM through new hands-on activities and interactive experiences," DeWine said. "Ohio is the Heart of Innovation, we're working to inspire Ohio's next generation of scientists and engineers who will play a tremendous role in Ohio's ongoing success."

BGSU plays a major part in Ohio’s science and engineering successes by producing job-ready graduates in a wide variety of STEM-related fields.

Within the University's physics and astronomy department in the College of Arts and Sciences, BGSU students actively participate in cutting-edge scientific research in the fields of astrophysics, materials science, nano-science, solid-state physics and computational physics. Additionally, the BGSU Planetarium and Observatory offers opportunities for astronomy research and education, as well as community engagement activities. These experiences are crucial for developing the credentials that graduate programs and employers seek.

The University’s School of Engineering within the College of Technology, Architecture and Applied Engineering prepares students for the in-demand jobs of tomorrow and is at the forefront of cutting-edge research, hands-on education and innovation.

BGSU ensures all graduates have a strong technical background with teamwork and leadership skills, problem-solving and communication skills, involvement in extra-curricular activities, and the practical background of co-op and internship experiences. Emphasizing these areas prepares BGSU students to be work-ready on day one of their jobs and makes them well-qualified to take leadership roles in the future.

Updated: 08/02/2023 10:01AM