SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO : Dry? Nope, the Mood Was Electric

Conductivity. Sound waves. Inert gases.

For many kids, words like these bring to mind endless hours of dry science lectures and even drier textbooks.

But on Wednesday, nearly 500 students at Marco Forster Middle School got a firsthand look at the real meaning of these phenomena--and what they saw was anything but boring.

From breaking glass with mere sound waves to becoming a human conductor of 40,000 volts of electricity--and living to tell about it--the sixth- and seventh-graders got to participate in the National Science Center's traveling laboratory, a portable classroom operated out of an 80-foot truck that travels the country bringing the world of science and math to kids.

This is the first time the program has visited Orange County since it began in 1989. Its message: Science is exploring, not boring.

"It made you realize that science is fun," said 11-year-old Molly McKeown. "I learned a lot!"

For Brian Riskas, the program was a real hair-raiser.

The sixth-grader found himself in contact with the Van de Graaf generator, an electrical device created in the 1940s to set off atomic bombs.

With 40,000 volts of static electricity safely coursing through his body, he seemed completely unaffected.

Except for his hair, which stood straight up on end, prompting peals of laughter from his classmates--and clearly illustrating the principles of static electricity.

But, warned Edward Bocock of the National Science Center, who put the show on in conjunction with the Department of Defense electricity is not something to play around with.

"You can touch my toys all day long and never get hurt," he said. "But if you go home and stick your fingers in a socket, you'll be fried toast."

Justin Hobson was another sixth-grade human guinea pig used in a similar experiment on electricity with a Tesla coil. Without even touching the device, Hobson felt a little zap when his finger came close to the coil.

"It felt tingly, but it didn't hurt," he said, adding that the experiment was more than just a fun trick. "I learned that electricity travels through the air and that it can be dangerous," he said matter-of-factly.

There was no shortage of volunteers among the eager sixth-graders who came in droves to participate in the program--and that came as no surprise to Bocock. "At this age, they still want to learn, and they're still open to exploring new things," Bocock said. "We do this to get their interest piqued."

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