As Rocky Mountain Research Station research engineer Pete Robichaud and local science educator Paul Allen scrimmaged with their local hockey team in 2008, they had the glimmer of an idea. The low friction properties of ice, as well as the unique physics and chemistry of water, might be a good way to connect kids to science. Using hockey pucks of different mass, they developed an experiment to illustrate Newton's laws of motion and the “Science on Ice” program in Moscow, Idaho, was born. Discussions with other science educators led to a program to help young people learn some physics, chemistry and the basics of the scientific method by doing experiments on the ice.
Now in its ninth season, the Science on Ice program has expanded in both location and scale, serving over 500 fifth- and sixth-graders this winter, October–March, in Idaho and Montana. RMRS research scientists, local science educators and other adults volunteer their time to teach students basic principles of physical science, including the three states of matter, diffusion, Newton’s laws of motion, gravity, and linear and angular momentum. For example, Newton’s Second Law of Motion involves the use of homemade hockey puck slingshots and hockey pucks of differing weights to discuss the concepts of force, mass, and acceleration. The kids participate in the experiments and then get time on the ice to skate.
Grants from the station and local sponsors pay for schools to travel to Moscow or for the volunteers to travel to more remote locations. The program’s popularity continues to grow and the kids consider it “the coolest field trip.”