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Whole lotta shakin’ going on at seismic-themed STEAM Night

Demonstrating how a seismograph works, La Canada High School students Justin Wang, 16, holds a mock
Demonstrating how a seismograph works, La Cañada High student Justin Wang, 16, holds a mock-up of the tool as partner Ryan Choi, 17, shakes the table at a STEAM Night event at La Cañada Elementary School on Nov. 14.
(Tim Berger / La Cañada Valley Sun)

There was a whole lot of shakin’ going on last week at La Cañada Unified’s STEAM Night, which centered on seismology and a mission being undertaken by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to find and measure “marsquakes.”

La Cañada Elementary School’s cafeteria transformed into a marketplace of scientific exploration on Nov. 14 as students submitted drinking-straw structures to the wrack and ruin of homemade shake tables, wiggled Slinky toys and took a robot for a spin.

LCUSD science coordinator Amy Nespor organizes the monthly meetups, where students across all grade levels are offered an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the universe.

“My thought was to show that science is exciting,” she said. “We do earthquake drills and the Great Shakeout (preparation event) but I’m not sure students spend much time learning about earthquakes.”


This month’s seismic theme was timed to coincide with JPL’s InSight mission, which on Monday will land a craft on Mars that will poke, prod and evaluate the Red Planet to determine what forces are at work beneath its oxidized surface.

InSight project manager and special guest Tom Hoffman shared fun facts about the lander’s journey and scientific mission.

Short for “Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport,” InSight is packed with instruments that will collect Martian data and return it to Earth. Among those instruments is a seismometer so sensitive it could register a butterfly’s landing, Hoffman said.

InSight will measure heat flow, pressure and wave patterns, among other factors, to determine the planet’s formation and how it might differ from other planets.


“We’re going to give Mars the first checkup it’s had in 4.5 billion years,” Hoffman told some 100 in attendance.

Alyssa Dahya, 9, of La Canada Elementary, leans what an earthquake S-curve looks like using a Slinky
Alyssa Dahya, 9, learns what an earthquake S-wave looks like using a Slinky at a STEAM night event Wednesday at La Cañada Elementary School.
(Tim Berger / La Cañada Valley Sun)

Launched May 5 from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, InSight will end its six-month, nearly 135-million-mile journey with a touchdown Monday at 11:47 a.m., Pacific Time. The event will be livestreamed and televised.

After Hoffman’s talk, students played at stations whose concepts were rooted in scientific and engineering principles. One table — which let kids make their own seismograms by shaking a table underneath a suspended magic marker seismograph — was run by members of La Cañada High School’s Science National Honors Society.

Mother Alexandra Zorozhkina, of Altadena talks about the Mars space craft InSight with her son Nicol
Mother Alexandra Zorozhkina, of Altadena, talks about the Mars spacecraft InSight with son Nicolay, 8, during a STEAM Night event held at La Cañada Elementary School. InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman spoke about the lander, due to touchdown on Mars on Monday.
(Tim Berger / La Cañada Valley Sun)

Member Justin Hyon, an LCHS senior, described coming up through La Cañada schools as science enthusiast who didn’t have means of expressing or applying his interests.

“We want to create a systematic approach to introducing science to these younger kids,” Hyon said.

Nearby, high school members of the Golden Gears FTC Robotics team showed off a machine designed to pick up and drop whiffle balls.


La Cañada High junior Ethan Cohen said engineers contribute just as much to JPL missions as scientists do.

“They apply to each other,” he said of the fields. “For little kids, it’s good to see them in the same setting.”

The evening’s activities registered a 9 on the Richter scale of fun for Palm Crest fourth-grader Bella Castano, for whom science is a favorite subject.

“I learned how to do earthquake stuff, about the P wave and the S wave, and how you can learn about different science and more about earthquakes so when an earthquake happens you know what to do and what’s happening,” she said.

Twitter: @SaraCardine