PALISADES, NY — Water and ping pong balls erupted into the air. As the balls fell to the pavement, children rushed to pick them up and put them back in the rubber trash can.
That scenario repeated every half hour or so on Saturday, Oct. 7, during the annual open house at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The event attracted almost 4,000 visitors.
Columbia University operates Lamont-Doherty, which includes labs dedicated to assorted scientific fields, such as geochemistry and oceanography. The campus also boasts a core repository that houses more than 19,000 sediment cores collected around the globe between 1947 and the present. The oldest core, which was collected in 1967, dates from about 130 million years ago.
The trash can eruption was one of several eye-catching demonstrations. Under a tent, scientist Marc Speigelman danced atop a mixture of cornstarch and water that filled a bathtub. If he moved fast, he stayed afloat. If he stood still, he sank. The recipe for the mixture was 1 cup of water for every 1 pound of cornstarch.
The open house also allowed the public to peek at the campus’ high-tech equipment, including a thermal ionization mass spectrometer inside the geochemistry building. In the marine biology and seismology building, a seismograph recorded readings from a sensor on the campus. On a computer screen, readouts were displayed from other earthquake sensors that Lamont-Doherty monitors throughout the northeast United States.
Tim Lamorte is an award-winning journalist who has spent almost two decades documenting life along the Hudson River.