NYUAD Students Teach Local Kids about Science at Abu Dhabi Science Festival

Students from NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) and other local universities recently brought a little bit of winter spirit to sunny Abu Dhabi.

Volunteering at the third annual Abu Dhabi Science Festival last month senior chemistry majors Alex Larkin and Haoran Liang, and freshman and prospective engineering major Yunbo Wu, were conducting demonstrations with sodium polyacrylate, a super-absorbent polymer used in television and cinema as fake snow. Volunteers put the polymer, which resembles table salt, into kids’ hands and added water. To the delight of the young aspiring chemists the small pinch of salt would poof up into a pile of “snow” that overflowed from their tiny hands.

Alongside Larkin, Liang, and Wu, three other NYUAD students ­– Dora Palfi (NYUAD ‘16), Ayesha Khan (NYUAD ‘17), and Andrew Platonov (NYUAD ‘14) – volunteered as science communicators at the Science Festival. Students from 10 other local universities also volunteered.

This year’s Science Festival, from November 14-23, saw over 150,000 visitors to the Corniche and du Forum on Yas Island, a 26 percent increase in participants from last year. The festival also toured Al Ain and Al Gharbia as well as several locations in Ras al Khaimah, Umm al Quwain, and Fujairah.

For Larkin, who frequented science museums in Texas as a kid, and had even participated in a mock archaeological dig as a second-grader, the festival was something of a throwback. “I used to want to be a paleontologist,” he said, and for a few days in Abu Dhabi he was given an opportunity to live out his own dream. In addition to the polymers demonstration, Larkin helped at an archaeology workshop, where volunteers buried shards of pottery, horseshoes, and utensils in a large sandbox divided into transects by string, simulating an actual archaeological dig site. Teams of children would dig up the objects, sketch them at a table, and receive a certificate stating they had participated in an archaeological dig.

Wu recalled one father who brought three children, all of whom excelled at different skills they applied to the festival workshops. “I really enjoyed how they look at science, and how they use their creativity,” Wu said.