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Nettle Creek students get presentation from Argonne meteorologist

Published: Tuesday, May 6, 2014 9:19 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 9:14 p.m. CDT
(Heidi Litchfield –
Students and teachers at Nettle Creek attempt to blow out candles from their seats Tuesday to show how wind works during a presentation by Argonne National Laboratories.
(Heidi Litchfield –
Aiden De la Hera attempts to blow up a long plastic bag during a presentation Tuesday by Douglas Sisterson from Argonne National Laboratories.

MORRIS – Air. You can’t taste it, smell it or see it, unless it has something in it – but you can feel it and hear it.

Those were just some of the lessons taught Tuesday morning to Nettle Creek School students during an assembly with Douglas Sisterson, an Argonne National Laboratory scientist and meteorologist.

“Doug has chased tornadoes and lived to tell about it,” Jana Padovano, with Argonne National Laboratory, said as she introduced him to the students. “Get ready to be challenged and entertained.”

Sisterson presented to the school as part of Nettle Creek’s school improvement plan, which includes showing students different career paths they can take, Superintendent Don McKinney said. Sisterson is a renowned meteorologist who has been with Argonne for 39 years as a research meteorologist. He has given more than 450 presentations during the last three decades.

Sisterson told students that while you can’t see air, it can be measured, which means it has mass. He gave the example of a deflated balloon weighing less than one which is blown up.

His first hands-on experiment was to take about an 8-foot-long plastic bag and challenge one of the students to blow it up in one breath. Second-grade student Aiden De la Hera attempted it by taking in as much air as he could hold and blowing it directly into the bag. Unable to fill it, Sisterson showed the students how easy it is if you hold your mouth several inches from the bag, instead of placing it directly against the bag.

Students also learned about tornadoes and hurricanes and the force behind winds with the help of dry ice, boiling water and a tornado reproduction chamber that was built and used by his daughter for her eighth-grade science project.

“I’m going to try building one at my house,” fifth-grader Noah Smith said. “My dad is a carpenter, and he can help me make one.”

Sisterson then demonstrated that it wasn’t the bathroom fan on top of the chamber that caused the tornado to occur, but the input of air from the corners of the chamber, which had a space to allow air to flow in.

“I was always confused by that principle,” fifth-grade student Sophie Pfaff said. “I know more about weather, because I’m interested in it.”

Third-grader Gage Phillips said the tornado was awesome and it was interesting how hot air and cold air come together to form one.

Students raised their hands and answered questions about why a whip makes the cracking noise and why after lightning we hear thunder. Several students knew the answer was because it breaks the sound barrier.

“Lightning breaks the sound barrier, you’re right,” Sisterson said. “It took meteorologists 200 years to figure that out.”

Students also learned about the process scientists use to challenge a hypothesis.

“Science is about the process, not the outcome,” Sisterson told the students. “To be a good scientist you want to be a good detective.”

Sisterson’s appearance was part of a school improvement plan that has been implemented.

“The school improvement plan is to take a good school and make it better,” McKinney said. “We’ll utilize people from the real world and show the students what career opportunities are out there.”

He said visitors who speak and demonstrate science are important for students, as it helps them see how it is used in real life.

“They can hear science all day long from their teacher,” he said. “This gives them the chance to meet someone who makes a living at it. It’s a great opportunity to show science as a career.”

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