Culture, Art & Science: Exploring Real World Science at the Barrio Logan Science & Art Expo

High above the crowd atop a rising fire truck ladder, a member of Fire Station 11 began releasing a series of boxes, each holding an egg as its precious cargo. On the street below, local students and their families cheered – and also wondered: Would the engineer-designed boxes protect their eggs from cracking or breaking from such a high fall? This amazing community egg drop competition, along with other “real life” science activities, was one of many hands-on science activities offered at the first annual Barrio Logan Science & Art Expo.

The Barrio Logan Science & Arts Expo (BLSAE), held Saturday, March 16, 2019, was the brainchild of Hector Villegas, president of the Barrio Logan Association, and Alberto “Beto” Vasquez, community outreach and engagement coordinator for the CREATE STEM Success Initiative (CSSI), a UC San Diego initiative supported by UC San Diego’s Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE).

Held at the Mercado del Barrio in San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood, BLSAE provided students and their families with a new way to experience the “science of the world around us.” Close to 1,000 kids and adults enjoyed a day of culturally relevant and engaging interactive demonstrations featuring more than 50 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and art demonstrations from groups representing UC San Diego and the region, like Northrop Grumman, National University’s NUbotx Team, General Atomics, the Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE), La Bodega, DUDEK, Kali Arte Collective, The Nat, the City of San Diego, Living Coast and many more.

Anchoring the event were UC San Diego faculty, student organizations and students, along with community college student groups, sharing their knowledge – and their enthusiasm – about STEM in booths and at tables. Using hands-on, highly interactive demonstrations, college students from local community colleges and surrounding universities explained (in both English and Spanish) the science behind day-to-day phenomena to the hundreds of families in attendance.

The day was full of festivities that allowed science, art, culture and community to come together. Science shows provided by Mad Science and the General Atomics Fusion team captured the audience while Latin sounds provided by guitar duo, Dulcet, filled the air.

Attendees had the opportunity to silk screen tote bags, create their own linoleum-cut posters and make zines (mini magazines) that captured the spirit of the event. The air was redolent with the smell of good food from local businesses and with buzzing noises, hums and gyrating sounds from Northrop Grumman’s Escape Box and National University’s NUBotx Team – with General Atomics providing an occasional explosion here and there.

Local schools were contacted in advance to participate in an engineering and design competition that allowed students in grades 4 to 8 to test out their skills in constructing an egg drop device that would compete in the fire engine fall and be judged. Winners received family four-packs to Balboa Park and tickets to the Birch Aquarium. Thanks to the City of San Diego and Bomberos de San Diego, the competition took place from a very remarkable position – atop a ladder attached to a fire engine.

The Egg Drop Competition allowed students to fully engage in a design process while subtly putting their mathematical and reasoning skills to the test. Seeing the fire engine pull up made the kids that much more excited to test their devices.

“Hector and I came up with the idea to use our own cultural history to showcase science and art as a way to boost engagement in the community,” Vasquez said. “At the expo, students and families got a behind the scenes look at neighborhood establishments, such as Ryan Brothers Coffee and Attitude Brewing Company, and learned the science behind their crafts. They learned about engineering and physics of hydraulic systems in lowrider cars from physicists and mechanics — both vantage points were shared. The energy was electrifying, and it highlighted the local, daily reality of STEM.”

In addition to sponsorship from UC San Diego CREATE, the Barrio Logan Association and the Mercado del Barrio, community partners included NBC 7 San Diego, Telemundo 20 and San Diego Continuing Education.

“Of course, a community event like this is only made possible with the support from all the exhibitors that came out to support us with a multitude of hands-on exhibits, ranging from making seed bombs with the crew from La Maestra’s Generation Center to learning about enzymes in an interactive role play with UC San Diego doctoral candidates from BioEASI,” Vasquez added.

UC San Diego alum, Dr. Lilia Ornelas, and microbiology major, Larissa Cabrera Ponce, shared the science of tortillas, explaining the chemistry of how the starch in corn breaks down, the physics of flattening tortillas for cooking, and how heated molecules cause the bubbles in a cooking tortilla.

Marcos Arellano, president of the San Diego Impalas lowrider’s chapter, and Dr. Lorenza Levy, a Physics professor at San Diego City College, explained in detail the hydraulic system inside lowrider cars.

An undergraduate team from UC San Diego’s Department of Physics with Professor Adam Burgasser (right) attended the event to demonstrate how changing your body’s center of mass affects your circular motion as you spin in a chair.

Post doctorate and graduate students with UC San Diego’s Center for Energy Research demonstrated energy concepts ranging from solar panels to shocks.

Staff from the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography showed kids how air pressure affects whether you sink or float.

At the Mad Science “Fire and Ice” show, students learned about chemical reactions, special gases and explored the properties of dry ice.

“The inaugural Barrio Logan Science & Art Expo provided a fantastic entry point for UC San Diego to share STEM resources and knowledge, with collaboration with our community and exhibitor partners,” Vasquez noted. “The CREATE STEM Success Initiative is committed to inspiring the next generation of STEM researchers and professionals who will create tomorrow’s innovations and scientific breakthroughs.”

Special additional thanks to all our volunteers and sponsors; the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Chapters from San Diego City College and San Diego State University, for their involvement and support; the CSSI Science Education Outreach Team (Arturo Baza, Larrisa Cabrera-Ponce, Metzli Cisneros, and Jonathan Gonzalez-Padilla); and CREATE staff present throughout the day’s activities.

To participate in future CREATE STEM Outreach events supporting students in STEM, please contact Alberto “Beto” Vasquez, community outreach and engagement coordinator for the CREATE STEM Success Initiative (CSSI) in UC San Diego’s Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE).