Today we went on a homeschool field trip to a place called LIGO. It stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. It measures distortions in space-time.
The website (that you can get to by clicking on the link above) says this: "LIGO is an instrument for sensing the presence of matter, whether shining or dark, in the distant reaches of the cosmos. LIGO does this by detecting the gravitational waves -- ripples in the force of gravity -- created by violent events such as the collisions of stars and the vibrations of black holes."
It was fascinating to think that such a very technological observatory was near enough for us to visit (Louisiana isn't exactly the first place you think of for astrophysics). They had a wonderful educational program and one of the tour guides is a homeschooling mom to a 13-year-old girl!
We got to do an experiment about light, color, and film that was really fun. Here are some pictures from the lab.
First the kids (okay, and the grown-ups too - Steve got to come with us - see him in the background?) colored something on a sheet of black construction paper, then immerse the paper in a pan of water. They drop one drop of clear nail polish onto the surface of the water, and carefully remove the paper. The drop spreads out on the surface of the water to form a clear film. But light travels through the film and bounces back up, and you see colors on the film on the black paper! Very cool!
Here's Morgan's. She drew the heart in crayon, but the sparkly appearance is from the nail polish film that has covered her heart - it appeared coppery in places and purple and gold in other places. Really neat! Try this at home! We will!
Brooke and her friend, S. are waiting for the nail polish. Depending on if you got the thin nail polish or the thicker nail polish, your results would be different from your lab buddy's.
Z. is dropping the nail polish on her creation. We made sure to wear our safety glasses! You never know when nail polish will fly into your eyes while doing experiments! :::wink:::
We went through the Science Education Center, where they had 40 hands on exhibits that all demonstrated different aspects of the workings of LIGO - we learned about light and sound waves, weight and the effect on motion, film, sound reflection, and lots more. I think Steve and I had as much fun (if not more) than the kids!
For those in the Pacific Northwest, there is a LIGO in Richland, WA. It is a wonderful field trip (definitely geared more for older kids, though). Go! You won't regret it!