To Michelle Birke More, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to put science to good use - it's kid stuff.
A University of Utah doctoral student in physical chemistry, More has become an ambassador of science in the community, delivering her message with enthusiasm and conviction.And with a touch of fun as well, especially when the message is intended for children. After reading in her departmental newsletter that the Children's Museum of Utah was in need of volunteers, More signed up.
Once a month, she carts a grab-bag of household items and common foodstuffs to the museum, 840 N. 300 West, and presents interactive science projects that kids find entertaining as well as informative.
For example, with crackers, bread, potatoes and iodine, she is able to demonstrate to her wide-eyed audience/assistants how iodine molecules rearrange themselves into long chains in starch.
Her goal is as simple in theory as it is difficult in practice: "I want to break down the barrier between people and science."
According to More, most people don't have a clue what science is about and don't see its relevance to their everyday lives. "There is really no mystery about science," she says.
More's teaching style places a lot of emphasis on involvement, participation and respect. "It's important to let kids - and adults, for that matter - come up with their own questions and find the answers themselves," More said. It's also important not to patronize children, she added. "It annoys me that people who are being taught are often not given the respect they deserve."
More herself got that kind of respect when she was growing up. "Whenever I asked my parents (a scientist father and health-worker mother) a question, I always got an explanation far beyond my ability to under-stand."
More grew up in Houston and earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin before entering the U.'s doctoral program. At the U., she is part of a research group headed by professor Peter Armentrout that is studying how much energy is required to break bonds in molecules.
As a purveyor of science, she considers the time she devotes to the museum a bonus rather than a burden. She says it gives her an opportunity to break down the mysteries of science for an especially receptive audience.
Children have a natural curiosity that's easy to tap, she said. They love to mix things together, pour things into test tubes and use eyedroppers. All the while they're learning, they're also having fun, she said.
"They've never experienced complex analysis, so I don't try to overwhelm them with information," More said. Her hope is that they will grow up unafraid of science and eager to apply what they learn to the world around them.
"What people don't know about science can be used against them," More said.