Budding kid scientists set off 90 model volcanoes for Museum of Science and Industry’s 90th anniversary

Elementary school students participated in a celebration of the museum’s birthday while learning about the ancient city of Pompeii.

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Bret Harte Elementary School students erupt model volcanoes as part of the Museum of Science and Industry’s 90th anniversary on Sept. 21, 2023.

Bret Harte Elementary School students set off model volcanoes as part of the Museum of Science and Industry’s 90th anniversary Thursday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Donning white lab coats and safety goggles, 90 elementary school students lined up at tables on the front lawn of the Museum of Science and Industry to set off old-school model volcanoes on Thursday morning.

“My heart dropped when it exploded,” said Darrell Bullock, 7. “I wish it would have been bigger, but my heart did drop still.”

The first through eighth graders from Bret Harte Elementary School were participating in the event as part of the South Side museum’s celebration of its 90th anniversary. Each student was able to set off their own baking soda and citric acid volcano and take them and the coats and goggles home.

It was a way to get the children engaged in science while teaching them about Pompeii, said Jessica Chavez, the museum’s chief learning and community partnership officer. The students were also sent home with tickets to bring their families back to the museum’s exhibit. The ancient Italian city of Pompeii was buried in 14 feet of debris when Mount Vesuvius erupted on Aug. 24, 79 A.D.

“This is exactly what we’re trying to do: We are sneaking in the vegetables of being hands on and engaged in science while having fun,” Chavez said.

The eruptions were met with shrieks and shouts of excitement as the young scientists set their exhibits bubbling.

Seven-year-old Lyric Parker said she wants to be a scientist like her father when she grows up.

“I told my friend not to put her goggles right in the thing because I told her it’s gonna get in her nose, and I told her it’s gonna burn,” Lyric said, demonstrating how she covered her own nose before looking inside. “When I poured the chemicals in, I felt like I was a real scientist, the first time I felt alive in science.

“I felt like I was my dad,” she added.

Bret Harte Elementary School students erupt model volcanoes as part of the Museum of Science and Industry’s 90th anniversary on Sept. 21, 2023.

Bret Harte Elementary School students set off model volcanoes Thursday as part of the Museum of Science and Industry’s 90th anniversary.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

By doing hands-on activities, the students became more interested in science, said Bret Harte Principal Charlie Bright.

Bright added he hopes the project will help strengthen the kids’ relationship with the museum.

“The kids love it. They don’t want to leave,” Bright said. “That’s what science is all about. It’s really the application, the experimentation. So if we can plant some seeds early, maybe we can grow up future scientists.”

Bright may already have a few scientists in the making.

Lyric wasn’t the only student to see a future in STEM. Leetrell Wardell, 7, said she wants to be an engineer when she grows up.

“It was awesome,” Leetrell said. “It was very great. I’m very thankful, and also I love engineering, so that’s why I was so excited.”

She added that she wanted to do the experiment again. “I was just so surprised,” Leetrell said.

Brianna Wellen, the museum’s communication specialist, said seeing how thrilled the students were about the science was amazing.

To prepare for the students’ visit, museum staff got in on the experimenting too, and immersed themselves in the Pompeii exhibit to choose which lessons to pass on to the children.

“That’s like a fun part of working at the museum is doing science every day to make sure we gave the kids the right tools to do the experiment,” Wellen said.

The museum’s Pompeii exhibit has more than 150 artifacts on display and recently unveiled a new one, extending its time open until January.

Chavez said the museum’s goal is to meet people where they are and find ways to engage with everyone.

“MSI is determined to inspire the inventive genius in everybody. MSI is the city’s museum,” Chavez said.

As the morning exercise wrapped up, the kids were excited to get back to school for recess and lunch, but many wished they could do the experiment again.

“We’re gonna go watch the news when we get home so we can see ourselves,” Bentley Harris, 7, said. “It’s so fantastic that we came to the museum.”

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