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Explorit enthusiast all grown up: still playing with science

This article appeared in the January 14, 2011 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

Explorit enthusiast all grown up: still playing with science

Davis native, Patrick Bennett works with Explorit visitors on activities during NanoDays 2009, a nationwide festival of education programs organized by the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network.

By Liz Shenaut
Special to the Enterprise

If you go to YouTube and search for “The Nano Song,” you will find inquisitive sock puppets and a soprano scientist joining in song to explain nanotechnology.

The comical, informative video has been viewed nearly half a million times. If you read the descriptions and comments on the page, you would see it was made by UC Berkeley researchers for a video contest to see who could best describe very, very small things – nanometer sized things— to nonscientists.

What you will not find out on YouTube is that the director of this playful educational video has a personal connection to informal science learning at Explorit Science Center. Patrick Bennett, a 27-year-old nanotechnology researcher, visited Explorit frequently as a child in Davis with his family and school groups.

“Explorit was a fun field trip,” Bennett says. “I remember the animals – the snakes and the lizards [and] the turtles."

That was when Explorit’s museum was located at what is now its Nature Center, on 5th Street in the Mace Ranch area of Davis. Explorit welcomed Bennett to its newer Science Center building on 2nd Street during NanoDays 2009, organized by the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network. Visit http://www.nisenet.org/nanodays (link) to see the other participating sites.

There, Bennett answered visitors’ questions about nanotechnology and shared “The Nano Song” video. His video was the winner of the educational video contest organized by the American Chemical Society, a science information nonprofit.

Bennett’s interest in science is based in putting parts together to make things work.

“I like having results to look at, at the end,” Bennett says.

Speaking of results, Bennett’s accomplishments go beyond cute science musicals. He has a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley in Engineering Physics and is currently working on a PhD at UC Berkeley in Applied Science and Technology. He researches nanotechnology, finding practical uses for the unique properties of teeny, tiny (nanometer sized) things.

“For example, we find nano properties to use in electronics,” he says.

Bennett recognizes the importance of hands-on science for anyone trying to understand the way things work – nano or otherwise.

“I definitely think it helps to have hands-on experience to […] help you remember – internalize – concepts more than just being told of them,” he says.

Thinking back to his childhood visits to Explorit, Bennett voices his appreciation: “Explorit was a great place for hands-on. It provides opportunities that are not in the classroom."

Did an Explorit experience inspire you to pursue a career in science?  Email your story to explorit@explorit.org with the subject “Explorit Story.”
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Explorit Science Center, at 2801 Second St., has two exhibitions on display: “Move It! Science in Action” and “Wheels to Wings.”  Admission is $4 general, free for teachers, and ages 3 and under.  The museum is open to school groups by reservation and to the general public 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Tuesdays and 11 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.  For more information call (530) 756-0191 or visit http://www.explorit.org.

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