Hi-Line Living: Science

Chem magic and diesel fuel


Havre Daily News/Jake Shane

Montana State University-Northern held a series of science classes for children throughout this week and last to teach them some of the scientific principles they use to research alternative fuels and also some reactionary chemistry.

Though similar programs as these have been held at the tribal colleges at Rocky Boy's and Fort Belknap Indian reservations, this is the first year Northern was able to host them in Havre.

There were classes available for multiple age groups from 6 to 18. The younger kids took the "Chem Magic" classes, in which they conducted chemistry experiments, and the older kids made their own biofuel using practices Northern employees and students employ to make it.

The Bio-Energy Center, which will soon be renamed the "Advanced Fuel Center," at Northern was established in 2007, and Jessica Windy Boy is the director of the facility.

"I've always wanted to do some sort of summer program for kids," Windy Boy said. " ... I'm hoping that since this is the first year we did it, it will be a precursor to next year and we can do a longer type of camp, or maybe once a week we have the kids come in. Maybe one week they do fuels and maybe the next will have to do with biology or nursing or the trades so they can get some hands-on experience with plumbing or welding or something like that."

She said she is hoping to grow it in the future "to give kids well-rounded experiences with science and technology."

For their first year, they partnered up with the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line, as well as opening it up to the public. She said she thinks that including the Boys & Girls Club was a good idea because it gives the kids a chance to get out and experience more.

She said she hopes they can get funding for it next year, and they're going to try and keep it free to the kids.

The youngers kids, who were split into groups of ages - 6 to 7 and 8 to 9 - were learning basic scientific principles.

"It's a real 'Bill Nye the Science Guy' type of experience," Windy Boy said.

There was a lot of hands-on learning, as well as lectures and games for them to play. The got to play with liquid nitrogen and freeze bananas, study chemical reactions and pH balances, and do many other activities.

"The older kids are actually getting to make biodiesel," she said. At the end of the class, they can take the biodiesel home with them.

The older kids got to react biodiesels and take a tour of the center to see the scale of their experiments turned up to 11.

Windy Boy said she hopes that next year they will not only be able to make biodiesel fuel, but test it as well.

"Even if it looks good, it doesn't mean that it's a good job," she said.

Each of the classes were about two hours long, which Windy Boy said turned out to be much shorter than she thought it was going to be. They also had many more teenage students than they thought they would get, she added.

She said that one of the parts of her strategy in forming the summer classes is to get students thinking about Northern when they think about what colleges they might want to go to.

There were also classes held in Browning and Windy Boy said she thinks it's the third year they've been out there. It's easier to hold the classes at tribal colleges because they have easier access to grants that fund these types of projects. Windy Boy said they've been applying to a few little grants to get the programs rolling more at Northern.

However, the cost of the classes are minimal. A lot of it was just dedicating the time, Windy Boy said. She said MSU-Northern Chancellor Greg Kegel is in full support of starting up the youth classes at the university.

Havre Daily News/Jake Shane


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