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Saturday, Mar 15 2014 07:30 PM

Science of the Dust Bowl draws families, future scientists

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Michael Scott gets in on a CSUB Chemistry Club experiment Saturday during the Dust Bowl Science event celebrating the 75th anniversary of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," at Science of the Dust Bowl. The free family event let elementary-age school children explore science and technology through exhibits and demonstrations by the CSUB School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering students.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    CSUB students in the Chemistry Club including Katelynn Barton, left, Eva Mayorga, Elias Fiadoyor, Samantha Ratnayake, and Justin Thornton, right, (wearing sunglasses) offered hands-on demonstrations with school-age children and their families Saturday at Cal State Bakersfield during the Dust Bowl Science event celebrating the 75th anniversary of John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," at Science of the Dust Bowl.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Jack Loucks brought his loaded down vehicle to the CSUB Dust Bowl Science event Saturday to give students and participants a feel for what it may have been like to come across the United States to California during the Dust Bowl days.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    CSUB Chemistry Club member and college student Elias Fiadoyor sets up an experiment to put hydrogen into balloons during the Dust Bowl Science event Saturday at Cal State Bakersfield.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Maryann Scott checks out some of the demonstrations Saturday at CSUB during the Dust Bowl Science event.

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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

Those who dearly love science know full-well that many Americans share broad misconceptions and fears about what science is and what it does.

That's why dozens of science students and instructors at Cal State Bakersfield were thrilled to participate in Science of the Dust Bowl, a free family event held at the campus Saturday designed to let elementary-aged schoolchildren explore science exhibits and demonstrations related to the 1930s-era Dust Bowl and its aftermath.

"We're trying to get young people comfortable with science," said Carl Kloock, a professor in CSUB's biology department.

"The fact of the matter is, we don't have enough engineers and scientists in this country," Kloock said. "It starts here. We want to get kids thinking about science."

And at least for one day, they did.

Children moved from exhibit to exhibit and demonstration to demonstration, participating, oohing and ahing and asking questions. Most of the exhibits were connected in some way to the issues raised in John Steinbeck's masterpiece, "The Grapes of Wrath," which has inspired a yearlong celebration of the 75th anniversary of its publication.

At one booth where trays of dirt had been formed into miniature hills and other landforms, geology major Maryanne Bobbitt explained to children how poor farming practices contributed to the loss of topsoil.

"They used to farm like this," she said, her finger creating a furrow from the top of the hill to the bottom.

But the old method, she explained, hastened soil erosion.

"They had to figure out a better way to grow crops," she added as her finger traced rings around the hill. "What that's called contour farming."

As families moved through the presentations, bio-chemistry major Justin McCarthy, 21, talked about the diet of the migrant workers who came to California from Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and other states hard hit by hard times.

Many of the migrants couldn't afford coffee, so they scraped the burnt-black surface of toast and seeped it in hot water, a practice McCarthy called "not awesome."

The "carbonized" surface of the bread may have mimicked the roasted flavor of coffee, at least to a degree, but McCarthy said not only did the burnt grounds offer no java kick, the charred material likely contained carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents.

The natural sciences, geology, biology, chemistry, medicine, even astronomy, were represented at Saturday's event, although some exhibits had a more obvious connection to the Dust Bowl than others.

Why are native grasses on the great plains preferable to non-native? CSUB student Shana Carey, 22, was there to show real evidence to support her assertion.

Should growers plow fields against the prevailing winds or in the direction of the winds? Kloock set up a fan next to two examples so youngsters could see for themselves.

Yes, science requires evidence. And the student scientists were happy to share it.

Gabe Ruiz was there with his wife, Misty, and sons, Isiah, 12, and Elijah, 7.

"The main reason we came," he said, smiling, "was to get out of the house and see if we can learn a little something."

All in all, not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

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