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Astrocamp – Stimulating Encounters with Science

In May 2019, students in grades six to nine had a great experience at Astrocamp in Clover, Virginia. We learned a lot, while enjoying experiments and breathtaking activities. The classes and lectures were taught in a very engaging way. For example, when we discussed gravity across the universe, we got involved in in hands-on experiments illustrating how it all came to be. There was a large black table with an elastic cover in the middle of it, which reacts like gravity in outer space. Then we threw different sized balls on to it, representing planets and stars. It showed us how solar systems and other structures are formed and how they attract each other, rather than floating away from one another.

In another activity we took pictures in the dark with a long exposure of either four or ten seconds. We each had colored glowsticks, which we could move around to draw images in the sky. As a result, the picture taken showed the entire image that one had drawn.

To top that, we went go-karting and dropped 42 feet from a giant swing, while being harnessed, which led to swinging back and forth with a great view. These were some of the most exciting activities.

One evening, we went outside to look at stars in their constellations through high pixel telescopes. Another time, we built rockets out of bottles, clay, and paper and launched them high in the sky, powered by water and compressed air. By doing that, we learned the importance of the wings and nose cone of the rocket and how they influence the flight.

In another class we learned about magnetism and about the negative and positive terminals of a magnet and the contained electrons that lead to this phenomenon of magnets.

Later we experienced the power of electricity. In that classroom, there were multiple tools, which measured the flow of electricity. For example, there was a tesla coil, which produces high voltage electricity. Multiple plasma coils with purple beams of electricity fascinated us all. In another experiment, multiple people held hands as the first student in a line touched an electric source while the last one touched a lamp. Electricity went through the skin of the people in line without any effects as it lit the lamp on the other side. In the corner of the room stood a Jacob’s ladder, a high voltage traveling arc, where a bolt of electricity travels up two wires. In another corner was a device that looked like a plasma coil but was long and had blue beams instead of purple. If someone put their hand on this and simultaneously touched another person, they both experienced a light and harmless shock. Altogether, there were many different tools to demonstrate the flow of electricity and how it is observed. During another class, we built the planets in our solar system out of clay and sorted them according to size. In the next exercise, we built windmills and competed to generate the highest voltage, to see who can create the most energy. Last but not least, we dissected rock samples to find tiny meteorites. 

The Astrocamp facility is large and has knowledgeable, very motivated staff who teach the students everything necessary. It contains sleeping cabins, each supplied with 10 beds, an air conditioner, and a clean bathroom. In the dining hall, a buffet offered three full meals per day which included a salad bar and a vegetarian option if necessary. In the main building there are several classrooms, each equipped with different tools, facilitating great classes, a perfect learning atmosphere and a safe environment for exciting experiments. When the weather is right, a class about weightlessness at zero gravity will even be taught and demonstrated in the pool.

The telescopes reveal images of the stars in their constellations. Completing the fun environment, Whitney, a sweet and calm golden Retriever roams around the campus and makes everyone smile. Altogether it was a great experience that we recommend to everyone, whether they have a scientific background or not. 

- Celina K

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