Deborah Bosilovich placed a marble on the Rube Goldberg-like contraption in the meeting room at the Elkridge branch of the Howard County Library Monday and had a question for the dozen teens and preteens watching.
The marble slowly rolled through the contraption, made out of K’NEX toys, and fell off.
Bosilovich, the branch’s teens instructor leading the group in the Contagious Intelligence Project, asked what was wrong.
The answer was that the contraption wasn’t a Rube Goldberg - a device used to make simple tasks complex - at all, she told them.
“This (marble) can come into here. Now there’s nothing to catch it right there,” she said, pointing to its flaw.
The teens and preteens gathered around her already were brainstorming ideas and solutions.
“But doesn’t it mean that this one here is a waste because there’s nothing there,” asked Chimmy Iheanyi-Igwe, 12, of Elkridge.
“Right,” Bosilovich replied.
“You could change that and use this for that,” said Curtis Dvorak, 14, of West Friendship, as he pointed to possible improvements.
And the brainstorming was exactly what Bosilovich was hoping the group would do. The Contagious Intelligence Project is the branch’s effort, which began in September, to get middle- and high-school students excited about science, she said. The group meets each month and focuses on a different topic. Monday’s was about energy.
Offering this program helps prepare the children and teens for a future in which skills in areas like science and engineering are in demand, Bosilovich said.
“Technology is so prevalent today. To be competitive, we need a strong education in science and technology, even if you don’t get a job in these areas,” she said. “Those connections the teens are building are going to spark imagination and understanding of scientific principles.”
The branch’s Teen Advisory Board had a large say in creating the Contagious Intelligence Project, said Ally Schuckman, its 17-year-old president. Having an activity like this is more likely to encourage them to visit the library, she said.
“I think we just wanted to give teens an outlet. We have so many teens that come here anyway,” she said. “(But) nobody is going to come to a class if they don’t want to go.”
The board built the Rube Goldberg-like device Friday, Schuckman told the group, and only then realized its flaw.
“We tested it and realized it connects to nothing. It’s kind of like a joke,” she said.
The group also discussed different kinds of energy and how energy and work are connected before moving on to other demonstrations of energy. They placed distilled vinegar in a plastic water bottle and a balloon with baking soda inside over the bottle’s mouth. As the baking soda reacted with the vinegar, carbon dioxide was released, which inflated the balloon, Bosilovich told them.
She also had the group create different kinds of energy from household items, such as a candle, a small fan, a battery and other items, on a table.
Participants had several reasons for attending, but they all seemed to have fun.
For Jordan Johnston, 13, of Columbia, who is home-schooled, the Contagious Intelligence Project fulfills a requirement in science.
Gage Stahl, 13, of Elkridge, who worked alongside him to get a tiny fan to blow via battery power, said he wants to be an engineer and said this program will give him an advantage when he reaches high school.
“I like science,” he said. “I want to be good in science in high school.”
The program attracts both boys and girls, Bosilovich noted. Several girls attended Monday’s session, including Chimmy and her 9-year-old sister, Nesochim. Several female relatives are scientists, making it sort of a family business.“We usually come to these, and it’s fun and interesting,” Chimmy said. “We don’t do these things in science (at school.) It’s fun and you get to see things happen.”