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CHARLESTON -- Children excitedly chattered as they awaited the "Fire & Ice" extreme science demonstration Friday morning at the Eastern Illinois University Science Festival Showcase.

Their chattering turned to "oohs" and "wows" as presenters Marietta Mayo, a biology instructor, and Hannah Fino, a chemistry major, lit a blow torch. The two presenters then showed how the look of the flame changed when exposed to sodium, potassium and calcium chlorides, which illustrated the chemical reaction that gives fireworks their colors.

"It is always nice to see kids excited by science," Fino said afterward, as she still wore her lab coat and other safety gear.

The "Fire & Ice" demonstrations, which also featured liquid nitrogen and dry ice, were among several activities offered by this second annual youth-oriented special event hosted by Eastern Illinois University’s Department of Biological Sciences in the University Ballroom.

Department Chairman Gary Bulla said they hosted a smaller Science Festival Showcase last year for high school students and expanded the event this year by opening it to the rest of the community.

Bulla said Marschelle McCoy, office manager of the biology department, helped recruit a representative from NASA and many other science presenters to draw visitors to the event. Bulla said he was glad to see Mark Twain and Carl Sandburg school students from Charleston and many other children there on Friday.

"We are just trying to get lots of people in for a nice, big science event," Bulla said.

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Third-grader Aiyana Maldonado was among the Carl Sandburg students who turned out for the "Fire & Ice" demonstration. Aiyana and some of the other children volunteered to eat cheesy snack crackers that had been dipped in liquid nitrogen after the presenters asked, "Who is ready to become a dragon?!"

Steam subsequently wafted out of the children's mouths as they munched on the flash frozen crackers. Aiyana said she was not scared to try one of the crackers, adding that it was fun having "dragon breath."

"It was like chewing ice that tasted like cheese," Aiyana said.

Outside of the demonstration area, the University Ballroom was filled with tables staffed by EIU science students and faculty and other presenters. These tables offered information and activities regarding soil types, butterfly attracting wildflowers, robotic prosthetic hands, the growing stages of eggs, 3D printing, composting with worms, and much more.

Joel Knapper, a volunteer NASA Solar System Ambassador, gave talks Friday morning at the Life Sciences Building about the biological effects of space travel on the human body. He then displayed a massive coffee table book full of planetary photos at his table in the University Ballroom.

Knapper, a Bourbonnais resident who works for a software company, said he and his fellow volunteers enjoy representing NASA as Solar System Ambassadors.

"We like NASA. We like the exciting things that are going on. We like to share that information with the public," Knapper said.

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Contact Rob Stroud at (217) 238-6861. Follow him on Twitter: @TheRobStroud

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Rob Stroud is a reporter for the JG-TC, covering the city of Mattoon, Lake Land College, Cumberland County and areas including Oakland, Casey and Martinsville.

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