children played in a pool filled with the mysterious oobleck
On May 18th, BkSciArt held its first pop-up museum event as part of the Go Green! Greenpoint festival to introduce the idea for a 100,000-square-foot center dedicated to [as the name implies] the intersection between art + science. Being a North Brooklyn resident interested in reuniting the arts and the sciences, I was eager to get involved in the planning of the event: an exploration of the curious non-Newtonian fluid oobleck.
Oobleck—which owes its name to Dr. Seuss’s Bartholomew and the Oobleck—is simply a mixture of cornstarch and water with some very strange characteristics. Treat it gently and oobleck will flow like a liquid, but apply a strong enough pressure and the oobleck will harden like a solid. To allow visitors to investigate these properties, we created a three-part interactive installation consisting of:
- A pool filled with oobleck to run or walk across. Participants learned for themselves that if you run [or hop or skip or jump] across the stuff fast enough, oobleck will behave like any other solid surface. But those who chose to take their time walking—or even crawling—across the pool found themselves trudging along through the mischievous mixture, sinking with each step like in quicksand.
- A make-your-own oobleck station where visitors could hold their creations over a subwoofer as it pounded out their favorite tunes. Spectators oohed and aahed as they watched the oobleck dance to the beat of the sound waves coming up through the speakers, drumming against the substance—a gooey take on the physics of music and sound.
- A papier-mâché sculpture of the Earth—inspired by the festival’s go green theme—created with recycled newspaper using oobleck as an adhesive.
Watching oobleck “dance” in response to sound waves with volunteers Rachel Smith [middle] and Jeanna Nikolov-Ramirez [right].
What was most exciting about BkSciArt’s pop-up event was that the oobleck, in all its weird + whacky glory, attracted both kids and adults alike. Several oobleck groupies even hung around the exhibit for the better part of the day just experimenting with the stuff and asking us question after question about its funky behavior. A few even carried off buckets of the goo to take home for further investigation!
Being a kid is so much about experimentation, so it’s no surprise that so many children want to be scientists—doctors and astronauts, inventors and marine biologists—dedicated to the pursuit of the mysterious and utterly cool. But somewhere around middle school, exploration gives way to memorization, as textbooks + lectures become the focus of the science classroom, marking the slow but sure dwindling of the population of would-be scientists. But as someone who actually grew up to be a scientist, I look back on that time in my education with a great sense of frustration. Learning science passively through books and lectures alone actually teaches us to miss the whole point of science.
die hard oobleck fans experimented for hours!
Science is by and large something you actively do—a set of tools to question and study the world around us through systematic trial and error. The hands-on experience of learning science is actually the one with the highest stakes, where you’re actually producing knowledge as you consume it. Through more active + engaging exhibits like the one at Go Green, BkSciArt holds the potential to not only provide an exciting outlet for aspiring kid scientists to continue exploring and questioning, but also to reignite that curiosity in those who thought science wasn’t for them all those years ago.
To learn more about BkSciArt and to stay tuned for more exciting pop-up installations and art + science salons, be sure to visit the group’s Facebook page. I honestly can’t wait to see what else they have in store!
photographs by Maryam Zaringhalam.