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Tie-Dyed Science

This semester, PPG Industries and Carnegie Science Center are taking the science of color on the road with a comic-book-styled adventure meant to make every young scientist a hero.









“We want students to think of science as being cool and fun and exciting.”

- Jessica Stricker, director of education experiences at Carnegie Science Center






This fall, students across the region will fight crime, save a city in distress, and celebrate with a brilliant fireworks display— all without ever leaving school. “The Great Color Caper,” the latest production in the Carnegie Science Center’s educational outreach program known as Science on the Road, hits the pavement in September.

“ The Great Color Caper” is a high-energy, detective-themed, comic-book-styled lesson in light and chromatics (the science of color) written by Mike Hennessy, one of the creative minds behind the Science Center’s popular theater productions. Guided by a live performer donning a tie-dyed lab coat, students will become “color cadets” and solve science puzzlers in an elaborate production that’s part video, part stage performance, part chemical kabooms, and all fun. In the fight for truth, justice, and the scientific method, the cadets must save the City of Spectropolis from Monochrome, an evil villain plotting to rob the city of all its color.

Throughout the 45-minute show, students will learn about color and light, how the eye sees them, and how the mind can be tricked into misinterpreting them. They will also experiment with dry ice and acid-based reactions that will demonstrate how adjusting the pH of liquids can change their color. The show will end with a bang—colorful explosions of hydrogen balloons filled with salts, the same chemical reactions used in real fireworks. To reinforce these lessons, Science on the Road will even provide teachers with activities students can do in the classroom before and after the show.

“ It’s a really dramatic way for students to see how science works,” says Jessica Stricker, director of education experiences at Carnegie Science Center.

“ The Great Color Caper” is the first of three productions funded by a gift of more than $400,000 from PPG Industries Foundation (a show on glass is slated for September 2007 and one on chemistry for September 2008). The gift has made “The Great Color Caper” an exciting, immersive experience unlike anything Science on the Road has offered before, with its own sound and video equipment and props straight out of a comic book. A 10-foot backdrop of the Spectropolis cityscape sets the scene with the prism-like spire of PPG Place refracting sunlight into a rainbow beaming through the sky.

PPG’s research teams worked closely with Carnegie Science Center to create fun ways that the company’s glass and pigment technologies could be used to illustrate concepts covered in Pennsylvania’s science curriculum. Throughout the show, real-life scientists conduct actual laboratory work on-screen and explain basic-science concepts to help the cadets along the way.

“ We’re so pleased to be able to help students understand science and technology—and realize that it can be fun,” says Sue Sloan, senior program officer of PPG Industries Foundation. “We hope it makes an impact on them in thinking about the future.”

“ It really is the most spectacular show that we’ve ever produced here,” says Stricker—so spectacular, in fact, that it called for its very own wheels. Painted entirely using PPG’s cutting-edge technologies, the show’s customized van is a traveling science exhibit all its own, featuring a brilliant display of specially manufactured glasses and paints. The bumpers change color with the light, and the windows feature special glass that appears yellow from the inside and blue from the outside, as well as infra-red-absorbent and infra-red-reflecting technologies that make some windows feel hot to the touch and others feel cool.

Both the van and the production will show the students real-world applications of concepts they are learning in school—a goal of the Science on the Road program since its inception in 1983. Today the program reaches 225,000 students throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, and New York each year, covering a variety of content—from sound waves to space travel, heat and combustion to human growth and development. Through interactive presentations and hands-on activities, Science on the Road brings lessons to life in classrooms, large assemblies, after-school workshops, camps, and even birthday parties (liquid-nitrogen ice cream, anyone?).

“ We’re all about inspiring curiosity,” says Stricker. “We want students to think of science as being cool and fun and exciting—something that they can do, something meaningful to everyday life, even a possible career choice.”

“ The Great Color Caper” is sure to be a popular new addition to Science on the Road’s programming; a single postcard mailing announcing its debut has already lined up more than 20 bookings. The show and its van debut at the Science Center September 16 and 17. Immediately following a press event at the Science Center on the 18th, the van will be parked at PPG Place for the public to view. On the 23rd, the Caper crew will bring the show to Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium to offer performances throughout the day. From there, it’s off to the schools.

For more information about Science on the Road, visit or call 412.237.3374.

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