Extreme science on display

NANAIMO – Explosions, implosions, flying arrows, fire, lightning and illusions are planned for the fifth annual Extreme Science show.

Explosions, implosions, flying arrows, fire, lightning and illusions – these are some of the exciting things planned for the fifth annual Extreme Science show.

The startling and occasionally loud science demonstration will entertain more than 1,200 school students in four shows in Nanaimo May 14-17.

“It’s going to be a fun, entertaining hour of extreme science for a worthwhile cause,” said Vancouver Island University physics professor Ray Penner, who stars in the show with faculty from the physics and chemistry departments and two students.

Extreme Science is a popular spring fundraiser for LED Africa, a charity started by Penner in 2008. The organization aims to provide solar-powered lighting systems and other assistance to rural secondary schools in Malawi, Africa. Penner developed a connection with Malawi when he taught there 20 years ago.

“Many of the rural secondary schools in Malawi have evening study sessions where they use kerosene lighting,” he said. “These sessions are typically sporadic both because of the cost and the limited availability of kerosene. In addition, the smoke from the kerosene lanterns causes health concerns.”

Penner and his colleagues from the University of Malawi set up a test system at a school using energy efficient LED lights powered by a solar panel on the roof. The total power required for a 50-student classroom is about 40 watts, which keeps expenses low.

After a positive response from the test school, Penner created the LED Africa charity. Lighting systems were installed in classrooms at three schools in 2009.

Since then a total of 17 schools have received the lighting system with the help of technicians from the University of Malawi. The cost to set up a classroom is $1,200, with two classroom systems being installed at each school.

The single solar panel, the battery, and cables which are required for each classroom are purchased from suppliers within Malawi. The battery box, which holds the battery and the controls, as well as the stands for the LED lanterns are built by local Malawian carpenters. The lanterns are all assembled by Malawians.

This year the money raised by ticket sales is going towards buying textbooks for rural secondary schools.

Penner adds the Extreme Science show is a lot of fun for VIU faculty because “it’s rewarding to get kids excited about science.”

A public show takes place May 16 in the Malaspina Theatre at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $10 each and available from Kool and Child on Bowen Road.