Science at the Market: Polymers

ENVISION partnered with the Sing Group in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering department to introduce kids to polymers.  We did three activities to demonstrate different aspects of polymers:

-Polymer simulations showed kids a basic idea of how polymers are made. They got to compete with each other to see who could make the longest polymer chain!


-Sodium polyacrylate is the super adsorbent polymer found in diapers, and kids got to see how different polymers can interact with water!


-Hot glue guns and letter molds were used to demonstrate how polymers are molded into different objects.


Urbana Middle School Math Camp Anamorphic Art

Event Title: Urbana Middle School Math Camp Anamorphic Art

Location: Urbana Middle School

Date: June 20, 2017

ENVISION hosted an Anamorphic Art Activity at Urbana Middle School’s summer math camp for 35 incoming 6th-8th grade students.

The activity used anamorphic art to investigate how pictures change in a curved mirror. The students created their own drawings, and transformed their drawings to another grid for anamorphic reflection. During the activity, students learned principles from optics, math and design.


Science at the Market: Paper Gears

ENVISION members hosted the Science at the Market booth at the Urbana Farmers Market on June 10th, where we made gear mechanisms out of paper. Students were able to make, play with, or take home pre-made kits of various gear mechanisms: Archimedes screw, shaker, and tooth and slot.

Thanks to the volunteers who helped us prepare the kits, and also to those who helped out on Saturday morning!


Booker T. Washington Family Engineering Fair

Envision partnered with student groups from UIUC, including Illinois Aerospace Outreach, ASME, and Pi Tau Sigma, to host the second annual Booker T. Washington Family Engineering Fair with the help of the faculty and PTA at the school! We had 135 people in attendance who participated in several hands-on scientific and engineering activities. Some of these activities included:

  • 3-D printing

  • Elephant toothpaste

  • Hydophobic water coasters

and other activities such as an Oobleck pool, balsa wood gliders, air cannons, ball runs, stomp rockets, and gumdrop domes!  Thanks to the 34 student volunteers who were instrumental in making this event happen!

I-STEM Live Symposium

In collaboration with the Principal Scholars Program (PSP), ENVISION hosted three hands-on breakout sessions at the I-STEM Live Conference. Over 40 middle school students from the Champaign-Urbana area came to Siebel Center and participated in three activities:

-Laser Obstacle Course: The students learned about light reflection by making an obstacle course with lasers and mirrors!


-Magnetic Slime: The students learned about polymers through making slime, and studied how adding iron oxide powder made the blob engulf magnets!


-Foldscopes and Bug Analysis: The students used Foldscopes (origami microscopes) to analyze crickets, mosquitoes, ticks and night crawlers!


Thank you to Dot Silverman and everyone at the CU Fab Lab who helped make the foldscopes!

Thank you to ENVISION members who volunteered and everyone in PSP who organized this amazing event!

Polymer Event at CPL

In collaboration with Champaign Public Library, ENVISION hosted an after school program about polymers for the middle school students who visit CPL after school. The students rotated through the following activities:

  1. Make homemade plastic using a microwave
  2. Make magnetic slime
  3. Make flubber bubbles

Our goal was to introduce the kids to polymers. We had a great turnout (over 40 kids) and the activities were engaging and fun for the students!

South Side Science Night

ENVISION members helped South Side Elementary host their annual Science Night with 4 hands-on activities to introduce students to STEM topics. The 4 activities were:

  1. Magnetic doodles
  2. Spinning figurines using homemade homopolar motors
  3. Balancing robots and Segway Rides
  4. Polyhedra kits & Orgami

A more complete description of each activity can be found here.

Thank you to the volunteers and to Sharlene Denos for their help in making this event possible!

DIY Microscopy & Histology at CPL

With help from one of our members Dorothy Silverman, ENVISION members hosted a DIY Microscopy event at Champaign Public Library. This event is a new bioengineering-focused workshop where kids control mobile microscopes to engage with the Champaign Public Library’s microscopic world. We kicked off the first workshop iteration with 2 hands-on activities. In the first, “What’s in my snack?”, kids dissected and analyzed their afternoon snacks with the uHandy microscope and a smart phone. This activity engaged students with their personal world and interests, in this case their afternoon snack. It gave them the freedom to choose what they want to image, how they imaged it, and how they presented their findings. It was goal-oriented because they are ultimately adding their work to a collective portfolio.

The second activity “Mobile Micro Hunt” is a scavenger hunt challenging kids to solve riddles with a microscope. Using a Foldscope (fabricated with help from the CU FabLab) the students rotated through 8 interactive stations answering questions and analyzing items from down feathers to mold from a cupcake! Each student was given a Foldscope, a 50-cent microscope made with origami, a sample-collection booklet, and a map. Students used the map to go from station to station throughout the room. Each station had commonly found items in a library (dust, ants, magazine paper) that students analyzed to answer a few questions. This activity forced kids to get up and move, interact with one another, and problem solve. It also makes them see their standard environment, in this example the library, in a new way.

This workshop compliments the driving goals of ENVISION. First, it is a hands-on workshop that helps students learn about the science of their everyday lives, yet introduces them topics perhaps not studied in school. It incorporates art and writing into science. And finally, it uses inexpensive tools that even low-income students can procure. It also engages our ENVISION members, requiring helpers to fold the foldscopes, design infographic templates, maps, and riddles. Volunteers at the event will also learn how to encourage student self-learning.


BTW Family Engineering Night

Event Title: BTW Family Engineering Night

Location: Booker T. Washington Elementary, Champaign, IL

Date: November 29rd, 2016

The Family Engineering Night at Booker T. Washington (BTW) was a success! ENVISION partnered with BTW, ASME and Illinois Aerospace Outreach to plan a variety of engineering activities for students and their families to participate in.

These activities were

– Catapults

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– Arts & crafts (holiday decorations) with circuits

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– Fancopters

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– Wind turbine blade designs

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– Balancing robots

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– DNA Extraction and DNA origami

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The students (and parents!) learned a lot and more importantly, had a lot of fun doing science!

St. Elmo Brady STEM Academy Symposium

Event title: St. Elmo Brady STEM Academy Symposium

Location: Newmark Civil Engineering Builing, UIUC

Date: November 12, 2016

ENVISION hosted a station at the St. Elmo Brady STEM Academy Symposium for 4th and 5th graders from elementary schools in Urbana-Champaign, as well as a few students from the Chicago area.  The students learned about polymers by making bouncy balls out of glue, Borax, and water (and food coloring!).

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The students (and their parents) learned about how polymers are made out of small molecules called monomers, and how these polymers can be linked together with special chemicals called crosslinkers.  Students were able to figure out which of the ingredients in their bouncy balls was the polymer (the glue) and the crosslinker (Borax) and what would happen if you added in a lot of Borax or a lot of glue!

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