'Willy Wonka' program dishes out delicious science

There may have been no fizzy lifting drinks or scrumdiddlyumptious bars at the University of Chicago's “Science on the Screen” showing of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at the Kersten Physics Teaching Center on Sunday, April 21, but there were plenty of sweets and surprises to go around nevertheless – no golden ticket required.

Dozens of children and their parents from all over Chicagoland turned out for the free event, which was sponsored by the University and the Chicago Council on Science and Technology. In addition to the screening of the classic film about a madman confectioner and the little boy who shows him that not all children transform into screaming gluttonous monsters in the presence of sugar, the event also included several dessert-related science demonstrations and a Halloween's worth of free candy for everyone who showed up.

Although she already had seen the film before, Hyde Park resident and University of Chicago Laboratory Schools third-grader Penelope Huang, 8, said that she enjoyed the chance to watch the movie again while trying to learn something.  “I really like the science experiments we do at school, and there's a lot of different experiments that he does in the movie,” Huang said. “And I also really like the scene where the girl turns into a blueberry.”

Huang's mother, Tina Louie, said she had a different but related motivation for attending the event.  “Especially as the parent of a young daughter, I wanted to make sure that she's exposed to as much science, math, and technology as possible,” Louie said.  “It's important to me that she gets the message that science can be interesting and rewarding.”

Another mother-daughter pair, Tricy Cooksey and 8-year-old Jordyn Cooksey who attends Keller Elementary School, were also drawn to the event by what Tricy called its focus on “inquiry-based learning.”

“This was just a no-brainer for us,” Tricy said. “We like to cook together and do science experiments for school, and we've even done a project together on Vitamin C in fruit juice. Events like this just go hand-in-hand with the kind of learning that the children are getting in the classroom.”

After the movie, several volunteers from the University's physics department came out on a cool afternoon to mix batches of instant ice cream with liquid nitrogen and demonstrate the weird properties of non-Newtonian fluids made up of water and cornstarch. “Getting to feed kids ice cream and science at the same time seemed like a very good use of my afternoon,” said third-year Kaitlyn Lee.  “And they're way better behaved than most of the kids in the movie.”

The demonstrations were developed and sponsored by the University’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Center.  The center’s outreach activities include the annual Physics with a Bang! event that has amassed a large following since its inception.

Science on the Screen is a new film and discussion series that aims to further public understanding of science, technology, math and engineering through art and dialogue with the world-leading faculty of the University of Chicago. The series is sponsored by UChicago Arts|Science Initiative; the UChicago Office of the Vice President for Research and for National Laboratories; and the Chicago Council for Science and Technology.