Fun with Science presenter Frances Foy assists Aliyah Ayala, a fifth grade student from the Azevada Elementary School in Fremont, with an experiment using liquid nitrogen.
Photo by Jacqueline McBride/LLNL
"Wisdom begins with wonder."
During a science experiment, Frances Foy helped a fifth grade student dip a blown-up balloon into a container of liquid nitrogen. As the balloon shriveled amid a cloud of white vapor while classmates 'oohed' and 'aahed' in amazement, Foy asked, "What is happening? Something is changing."
For two decades, Foy has been demonstrating the wonders of science like this one that explains the states of matter.
As a Fun with Science (FWS) presenter, she skillfully mixes facts with hands-on activities in order to stir a sense of excitement and the discovery of science. It is likely that along the way she has been responsible for steering many young people toward eventual science careers.
Foy is a mechanical designer in the Photon Science and Applications (PS&A) program. While her 35-years at LLNL will soon end as she embarks on retirement, not only can she look back on a productive career, but also on the opportunity she's had to enhance science awareness.
In its early days, the FWS program involved a presenter -- a Lab scientist or engineer -- who drove a van full of equipment and materials for experiments to schools in Alameda and San Joaquin counties.
Today, FWS is a two-hour presentation conducted at the Lab's Discovery Center as part of the Super Science Field Trip for fifth grade classes, coordinated by the Lab's Public Affairs Office. The goal remains the same -- to generate interest in science through fun and physical science demonstrations.
Foy said she got interested in the program when the van visited her son's school many years ago. "It was totally fascinating," she remembers. "I thought it was great."
She started out helping the presenters with some of the experiments, and gradually became more independent and involved. One of her early memories is going to an underprivileged school in Stockton where there was just one science teacher to cover four or five schools. "I got a lot of satisfaction out of it," she said.
On another occasion, she went to a junior high school, but was warned ahead of time by the teacher that students probably wouldn't pay attention as they just weren't focused. That was not the case. "They were so engaged," Foy reported. "It felt good that I could get them interested in science." Foy explained how the FWS program has changed over the years. Now that the school groups come to the program, rather than the program going to a school, it is more convenient for the presenter, Foy said. "The FWS program has evolved. "
And the students are more knowledgeable today, especially about the internet and computers, she added.
Foy is hoping she can continue her role as a FWS presenter, even though she will retire and spend more time at her home in Truckee.
"It is exciting to see what interest you can spark," she said. "And it is a way to give back to the community. If you are here at the Lab, most likely you have an interest in science. It is important to pass that on."
The Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.