BROOKSVILLE — The curtains opened at Chocachatti Elementary School on a stage that looked like the laboratory of a mad scientist. Fog-filled bubbles popped, cylinders full of colored liquids glistened and lightning arced inside a plasma ball.
The scientist, however, was quite sane. Science resource teacher Ruth Markham was dressed as her alter ego, Professor Marshmallow, sporting a polka dot hat and striped socks.
Her assistant was John Fadroski, a Nature Coast Technical High School graduating senior and elementary school volunteer. He was dressed for the role as well, in a tall sparkling hat and a painted jumpsuit.
Markham, or Professor Marshmallow, wowed the children on the recent science demonstration day, using fun and challenging tricks to keep them engaged and understand how amazing science truly can be.
First, she changed dry ice (solid carbon dioxide) from a solid into a gas by adding it to warm water in cylinders. She and Fadroski added soap to it, creating snakelike streams of bubbles.
Then came time for a practical demonstration of a chemical reaction. The professor concocted a cake batter from a mix, eggs, oil and water — and to the delight of the youngsters, she wasn't particularly neat about it. Cake batter was flying as she tried to get enough to fill a cupcake tin.
Ready for baking, she stooped to put the tin into an oven, and immediately stood up holding baked cupcakes — already frosted!
Markham periodically asked for volunteers. There were prerequisites, though. The first one, she said, had to be intending to grow up and become a molecular inorganic chemist. Apparently 99 percent of Chocachatti students intend to be molecular inorganic chemists.
The selected student was asked to punch a pointed skewer through a blown up balloon without popping it. She popped it. Then Markham demonstrated how it is done. The trick is oil and just the right placement.
Another science trick was a dramatic mixture of 40 percent hydrogen peroxide, water and yeast. This resulted in a chemical reaction making, what Markham called, elephant toothpaste.
To show what she means by a physical change as opposed to a chemical reaction, Markham called for another volunteer. She was going to show she could change a single index card, cutting it such a way that the student would be able to step through it. After doing so, she transformed the card into a big, folded circle that went right over the student's head. But, it was still paper.
Her next volunteer needed to have money to burn. The student had a $10 bill and when he handed it to Markham he looked worried, telling her she couldn't burn it.
"That's exactly what I was going to do," she said, assuring him she is successful — at least 1 percent of the time.
Before she did that, though, she insisted all the students promise not to play with fire. Then she covered the bill with a special coating and set it aflame. It didn't burn and the student got his money back. (Although she did give him a different, cleaner bill.)
Three more volunteers were brought up to the stage (three students who will be mathematicians or scientists when they grow up) and were asked to take off their socks and shoes. Markham had a rectangular tub of goop she called an oobleck, something that acts like a solid, but pours like a liquid.
"If you run across the tank you won't sink in," she told them, "but if you stop, you'll sink in." All three made it across without having to be pried from the water and corn starch goop.
The grand finale of the presentation was to pull a soap bubble up and around fourth-grade teacher Celeste Nelson. She stood on a cement block in the middle of a kiddy pool half-filled with soap. Markham and her assistant pulled a large plastic hoop up from the soap to Nelson's head producing a giant bubble before it popped.
As she ended her show, Professor Marshmallow pumped the students up one more time, getting them again excited about science. "Science does matter!" they yelled.