LAURINBURG — Though it took a bit of cajoling, half a dozen children defied gravity to glide around the library on Wednesday, courtesy of a “mad scientist” armed with a leaf blower.
More than 75 children attended the first of two programs offered by Mad Science of the Piedmont’s John “Johnny G-Force” Gowie during the latest installment of the Scotland County Memorial Library summer reading program.
To create a hovercraft, Gowie affixed the body of a leaf blower to a platform about two feet in diameter. The air expelled by the blower was sufficient to raise the board an inch off the ground, even laden with more than 100 pounds of weight.
“This is similar to riding a hockey puck in an air hockey game,” Gowie said.
Children took turns riding the hovercraft as Gowie whisked it around the library floor. As with most of his experiments, Gowie cautioned: “Don’t try this at home.”
Gowie also detailed Isaac Newton’s groundbreaking descriptions of gravity and the states of matter.
“If there was no gravity, guess what would happen — we would all fly, but guess what else would fly,” he said. “The oxygen around us would fly right into outer space and we would never be able to breathe, so gravity keeps us alive as well as keeping us grounded.”
To create a polymer, Gowie selected two children from the audience to assist in blending two unpronounceable clear liquids: polyvinyl alcohol and sodium tetraborate decahydrate.
“We’ll say it the easy way: everyone say magic juice,” Gowie said.
A volunteer stirred the two liquids with her finger until it became a slimy gel, rousing a chorus of “ewwww” from the audience.
“That is a polymer: it looks like a solid, acts like a solid, but it is actually a slow-moving liquid,” said Gowie. “Polymer is a word that means sticky, stretchy molecules all linked up in pairs that can be miles long.”
Gowie employed a few pyrotechnics to demonstrate the length of time a fire burns when fueled by various accelerants, and even set a lighter to a dollar bill doused in alcohol and water.
Rather than consuming enough cash to buy a soda or ice cream, the flame quickly fizzled, burning through the alcohol and leaving a damp dollar.
The travails of Thomas Edison, whose thousands of failed attempts on the way to inventing the incandescent light bulb, provided a lesson in perseverance.
“He tried to create a light bulb 10,000 times and it didn’t make it, then he used almost 17,000 different filaments,” said Gowie. “He used every wood he could figure out, but he decided the one thing that would work would be carbonized cotton.
“Was he a failure? No. Did he fail a lot? A failure is someone who stops at 26,000. At 26,001, he had a working light bulb.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.