Photos: 2024 AstroDay! UH Hilo faculty and students engage keiki in fun interactive science displays

This year, UH Hilo’s department of physics and astronomy had a large booth with different scientific exhibits related to the physics of light, electricity, optics, cultural astronomy and more. (And Barbie had a bad hair day.)

A group of keiki watch a Barbie doll on top of a silver dome, Barbie's hair sticking straight out all over.
Barbie has a bad hair day at the 22st Annual AstroDay on May 4, 2024. Each year, by far the most popular exhibit is the one about static electricity generated by a Van der Graaff belt generator. But this year came with a twist: on top of the machine, the crew installed a Barbie doll. Above, UH Hilo physics and astronomy student Trinity Parascandola demonstrates to amazed keiki how static electricity works. (Photo: Dept. of Physics and Astronomy/UH Hilo)

By Susan Enright.

The 22st Annual AstroDay, a free science and astronomy event put on for the public and geared toward keiki, was held on May 4 this year at the Prince Kūhiō Plaza in Hilo. The event sponsored by the Maunakea Observatories and coordinated by the University of Hawaiʻi Institute for Astronomy brings together volunteers from dozens of organizations based on Hawaiʻi Island, Maui, and Oʻahu to present science and technology activities and demonstrations to hundreds of keiki and adults.

UH Hilo’s Department of Physics and Astronomy program always participates. This year, the department had a large booth with different scientific exhibits related to the physics of light, electricity, optics, cultural astronomy and more.

Pierre Martin pictured.
Pierre Martin

“The annual AstroDay was again very well attended this year,” says R. Pierre Martin, an associate professor of physics and astronomy at the university. “During the event, several hundreds of attendees stopped by and it was a lot of fun, especially because so many keiki were interested and enjoyed our interactive displays.”

“Several of our physics and astronomy majors led the way and were wonderful during their interaction with the attendees,” adds Martin.

The astronomy department again this year brought the solar lasso exhibit, where people try to capture sun pillows with a lasso, as goes the famous legend of Maui. Keiki loved the challenge and many adults also attempted the feat.

Keiki toss a lasso around the sun.
Capturing the Sun with a lasso to slow the Sun motion, as the legend of Maui goes, under the expert eye of astronomy major Atlas Syncatto. (Photo: Dept. of Physics and Astronomy/UH Hilo)

Another exhibit prepared by Nicole Drakos, a visiting assistant professor of physics and astronomy, showed how lasers of different colors can be adsorbed or transmitted, using gummy bears (!).

“This is a neat way to explain the origin of colors found in nature, even more so with the reward of a little bag of colorful gummy bears given to each keiki,” says Martin.

Keiki attentively watch as professor uses green laser to reflect light in a box of gummy bears.
Assistant Professor Nicole Drakos shows how a set of gummy bears can reflect or absorb laser light of different colors, an intriguing way to explain the origin of colors in nature. (Photo: Dept. of Physics and Astronomy/UH Hilo)
Keki listen to Chloe as she gestures during her explanation about light.
Undergraduate student Chloe Tysler explains the properties of light, lasers, and colors to attendees. (Photo: Dept. of Physics and Astronomy/UH Hilo)

In another interactive display, the UH Hilo team installed two large mirrors that created interesting images when keiki moved in front of them, in particular one mirror forming inverted images. Martin says it was very intriguing for many keiki, trying to “catch” their upside down image by moving sideways up and down.

Two keiki on the right try to understand why their images in the large concave mirror are upside down. (Photo: Dept. of Physics and Astronomy/UH Hilo)

Martin says by far the most popular exhibit each year is the one about static electricity generated by a Van der Graaff belt generator. But this year came with a twist: on top of the machine, the crew installed a Barbie doll.

“The large static electricity resulted in a very bad hair day for Barbie,” says Martin. “It was a lot of fun explaining to keiki what was happening and we cannot count how many pictures and videos were taken of that exhibit alone.”

“And no worries,” he adds, “no Barbie doll was injured in the making of the exhibit!”

Student stands next to display with Barbie perched atop a silver dome with her hair sticking out all over because of static electricity.
The “bad hair day” Barbie sitting on the Van der Graaff machine, with student Xavier Tablit ready to explain the wonders of static electricity. (Photo: Dept. of Physics and Astronomy/UH Hilo)

Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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