SSR shows how to walk on water

By Jean Park

Students crowded around a section of the quad and jumped on top of tables to get a better view as Dr. Antonio Nassar and students in the Studies in Scientific Research conducted a scientific demonstration during a Monday break. A rectangular sandbox was assembled with smooth wooden planks to be filled with “Non-Newtonian fluid,” made from a mixture of corn starch and water.

Students in the SSR class “look into things [they] don’t know a lot about and research it all and write scientific papers,” SSR class member and event leader Kristen London ’10 said.

Multiple bags of corn starch lined the wall behind Nassar, while he kept a hose running to wash the over-flowing liquid off the ground. The box was designed by Ryder Moody ’10 and Charlie Fogarty ’10.

“This wasn’t a project, but [SSR teacher] Dr. Nassar wanted to make science a little more fun and integrate the entire school,” London said. “He wanted to bring more interest to the class and scientific research in general.”

Riley Guerin ’11 stuck his fingers into the mixture, which “took a long time [to mix] on Friday,” and gestured the OK sign to Matt Heartney ’12, who was the first volunteer to test the experiment. Heartney rolled up his pants and dashed across the mixture. The surrounding crowd of students laughed and applauded as they witnessed the “Non-Newtonian fluid” act as a solid.

The mixture, when agitated, is forced to bring the starch molecules closer together. Therefore, when a student runs on top of the liquid, the “impact of the force traps water between starch chains to form a semi-rigid structure,” flyers for the event explained.

“When I walked fast, it was like running on dirt, but when I walked slow, it’s like walking through really thick jell-o,” said Heartney.

Students began sticking their fingers into the mixture as more students prepared to walk across.

“It was kind of like giant suction cups on my feet getting pulled down every time I took a step. If you walk slow, it’s hard to lift your feet. It’s really cool though,” said Michael Leuchter ’11.

Guerin took a plastic stick to begin mixing the liquid once more before testing the experiment for himself. He stood at one end of the box and lifted his whole body to jump across the fluid. The students jolted backwards, but laughed and applauded Guerin when he stood still for a few seconds and fell forward as he tried to escape the agitated liquid.

“This is the first time we have done something like this at school,” Nassar said. “We had to mix everything by hand, but it was pretty fun. I can see the kids having fun as well. Our school needs a little relaxation and a place to enjoy, not just to learn stuff for college.”

“It felt like plaster, but melted like Godiva chocolate,” Mariana Bagneris ’11 said. “I had so much fun, but […] my pants are dirty.”

As the break period came to an end, the students lined up for one last run across the mixture before heading to their third period classes.