Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 31
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
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Local Teens in University Program Get a Seuss-Style Physics Lesson

Avery Hookey

Rising high school seniors participating in the Princeton University Preparatory Program (PUPP) recently enjoyed an unorthodox classroom setting for their physics lesson.

Under a large yellow tent outside the Princeton University Stadium, an inflated children's wading pool filled with "Oobleck," a mixture of water and cornstarch named for the gluey goo in the Dr. Seuss children's classic, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, was raised up on a wooden platform. Students were challenged to run across the liquid mass, from one end of the pool to the other.

When minimal force is applied, Oobleck acts like a liquid. It is thick but not sticky; it looks like dough and behaves like quicksand when one becomes stuck in it. When enough pressure is applied at a certain speed, however, the polymer chains of the mixture are able to support the weight of a person.

PUPP physics teachers Eric Fountain and Barbara Todd led the experiment, and provided a hand in pulling students out of the goo.

Mr. Fountain demonstrated the technique of high knees and fast stepping that successfully landed him on the far side of the pool, and then the students eagerly lined up. Before running across the Oobleck, they gathered around and smacked it with their hands to experience its reaction to strong pressure.

Cheering each other on, the seniors ran across the Oobleck. Some sprinted with ease to the other side, while others became caught in the substance from which they had to be slowly withdrawn. Enthusiastic students cheered on PUPP Director Dr. Jason Klugman as he rolled up his khakis and dashed across the pool.

Encouraged to Explore

Three years ago, PUPP received a grant from Johnson & Johnson and the Independent College Fund of New Jersey, and has since re-introduced science into the curriculum. The grant gives them the freedom to perform hands-on experiments that the students of PUPP would most likely not experience in a high school science lab.

Dr. Klugman remarked that the main aim of the experiment is to get the students to "think like a scientist and be curious about the world."

"There are a lot of different parts of science that most people don't know about," commented Princeton High School senior Grace Compton. Through the Oobleck experiment, the students were prompted to re-think how they define a liquid, and in a broader sense, where they draw certain intellectual boundaries.

Interactive experiences that encourage students to explore and think differently are the mainstay of PUPP's approach to academics. The program is for bright students from low-income families who are admitted from Princeton, Trenton Central, and Ewing High Schools with the aim of preparing them for college. Students participate in a six-week summer session for three years, as well as supplemental work during the school year. The emphasis of the program is on personal achievement and intellectual exploration rather than competition.

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