Science festival draws out Richmond students and families

Marine biologist holds squid for kids

Marine biologist Ken Baltz holds a dead squid while eager Coronado Elementary School students ask questions. Baltz said this squid, a non-native species, was pulled out of the Monterey Bay. (Photo by: Brittany Patterson)

Thousands of students, teachers and families — many proudly sporting Giants gear — poured into San Francisco’s AT&T Park to soak up some sun and science Saturday during the second annual Bay Area Science Festival sponsored by Chevron and organized by the University of California San Francisco.

Although some kids were immediately drawn to run the bases and share in a little of the World Series magic the San Francisco Giants just made, the pitching mound couldn’t win out against the hands-on science experiments dotting the field.

Children bounced between dozens of tents from local museums, businesses and educational institutions, building pinwheels to explore solar energy and playing with kaleidoscopes to explore the effects of light.

Chevron provided bus transportation and lunch to about 500 Richmond students from four elementary schools said Janet Auer, a specialist in the Global Partnerships and Programs division of Chevron.

Sharron Dennis, a fourth grade teacher at Coronado Elementary School in Richmond, said for the 13 of her students who came to the festival this was an opportunity for them to do some scientific investigating.

“They’ve done experiments, used equipment and done the write-ups — that type of science,” she said. “This shows there are no limits to science. There are so many things to study.”

Dennis’s class slowly moved from booth to booth crowding around each new project, clamoring to learn more.

“Is that a squid?” shouted one student.

Immediately the class surrounded marine biologist Ken Baltz who was holding a very slimy and very dead squid dripping a muddy brown liquid.

“Go ahead and touch it,” he said, encouraging the students to get close while he answered their questions.

Where does their ink come out from?

Their mouths.

How many suckers does it have?

About 500.

Baltz, a researcher in a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration laboratory, awed students with the dead creature as part of the Squids4Kids program, which supplies dead squids to classrooms across California for scientific discovery, a collaboration between researchers at Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University and NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service in Santa Cruz.

One student, Ethan Garcia, rattled off facts about the squid he just touched.

“I found out the squid unleashes its ink from its mouth,” he said. “It has three holes and a beak.”

Garcia said he likes science, especially things with animals. Right now he said he’s amazed by the color of the eyeless pit viper.

“He likes to watch Animal Planet,” said his mother, Maria Garcia, who came along as a parent volunteer. “He even wants me to buy him a snake, an anaconda.”

Maria said when she first heard about the festival she was thankful to Chevron for giving her kids the opportunity to be exposed to all types of science.

“My kids love science and for me, I’m learning things I didn’t know either,” she said.

Also showing off their scientific creation was the Richmond High School Robotics Team.

G6, a robot that was designed to shoot basketballs into a hoop, drew quite a crowd inside the Chevron STEM — or science, technology, engineering and mathematics — Zone.

Senior Richmond High School student Alejandro Tapia said the 13-member team was given six weeks to assemble G6 with parts custom made by Chevron.

Team 841 took their robot to two competitions this year, in Portland, Or. and Madera, Calif., to compete with other schools with robotics programs.

For senior Deseandre Eiland, who has spent the last three years on the team, building these robots has given him an opportunity to see what a career in engineering might look like.

“I liked to build stuff when I was little with Legos and Bionics,” he said. “I joined to meet new people and travel —not just be stuck in Richmond all the time.”

Eiland said he’s currently looking into colleges with robotics engineering programs.

Auer said the Richmond Refinery provides funding and mentors to the Richmond High School team and by having them showcase their robot at the festival they’re not only networking in a public setting, but they’re illustrating that science can be fun.

That, she said, was the goal of the festival.

“We look for opportunities to expose kids to as many opportunities that they may not have in their community,” she said. “We’re going to need all of these kids and more in the future.”

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