‘How do animals jump so high?’, ‘Why are some animals so fast?’, and ‘How do kangaroos hop?’ were just a few of the questions kids and their families had a chance to explore at the ‘Animal Athletes’ Science Saturday program at the Palouse Science Discovery Center in Pullman, WA on December 8, 2012. The ‘Animal Athletes’ program was presented by members and friends of the University of Idaho’s Comparative Neuromuscular Biomechanics Lab including Dr. Craig McGowan (PI and BEACON member), Dr. Anne Gutmann (BEACON postdoctoral fellow), Melissa Thompson, Catherine Shine, Travis Morgan, Shannon McGowan, and Kenneth Burns.
The mission of the Palouse Discovery Science Center is bringing hands-on science and learning experiences to people of all ages. The ‘Science Saturday’ programs provide an opportunity for members of the local science community to share their expertise with the public in a fun, informal manner. One of the main focuses of the Comparative Neuromuscular Biomechanics Lab is understanding how evolution affects the biomechanics of animal movement, so the lab chose the ‘Animal Athletes’ theme as a way to introduce kids and their families to the basics of biomechanics. Hands-on activities and games were used to show kids and their families how simple biomechanical principles enable animals to accomplish amazing athletic feats.
At one of the more popular activity stations, kids filled buckets with marbles to see how much more weight/force it takes to knock over an animal with a large base of support (e.g., a mountain goat) than a small base of support (e.g., a heron). At another station, kids got to see how much more force animals need to generate to jump than to sit or stand by comparing the force generated by a toy frog jumping to the force generated by a toy frog sitting on a force plate. And at yet another station, kids got to see how adjusting the length of lever arms at the joints changes how easy it is for muscles to exert force on bones. Kids also got a chance to test their own athletic abilities at the balance beam and jump height stations.
Everyone involved had a great time, and the Palouse Discovery Science Center is eager to have the Comparative Neuromuscular Biomechanics Lab back for a repeat performance.