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Lasers, ice cream and a very large microscope: “Bring your child to work day” at the Department of Applied Physics

Researchers from the Department of Applied Physics offered children a glimpse at lasers, thermodynamics and a tour behind the scenes at “Bring your child to work day” on 18. November
Three children with goggles standing with a young researcher at a computer
Luisa (7), Ivar (12) and Jon (7) with Rebecca Heilmann at the optical tweezers setup

Friday 18. November 2022 was Children’s Day at Work, a national campaign where 809 Finnish employers and organizations took part to give children an opportunity to learn about the working world together with their parents. The day is promoted by the UN and UNICEF as part of World Children’s Day observed every year on 20. November.

Lecturer Jami Kinnunen with three children sealing a bag at a table
Jami Kinnunen sealing a bag with ice cream mixture

At the Department of Applied Physics, seven-year old Jon, seven-year old Luisa and twelve-year old Ivar spent a morning accompanied by their parents exploring various aspects of physics. The day started with a demonstration of optical tweezers hosted by doctoral researcher Rebecca Heilmann from the Quantum Dynamics Group at the Department. Rebecca explained the apparatus and experimental setup, then showed the kids how you can trap microscopic particles by just using infrared-range laser light. The children also got a glimpse at the nanofabrication facilities hosted at the Micronova building before moving on to the Physics Undergraduate Teaching Laboratory. 

Two children with pink plastic bags containing ice cream mixture sitting at tables
Luisa and Jon making ice cream

Here, Senior University Lecturer Jami Kinnunen gave a hands-on experimental demonstration related to thermodynamics where each child got to choose a flavor to make their own ice cream. They did this by slowly freezing ice cream mixture with the help of ice cubes and salt using nothing more than their hands. This activity was fun and the kids got to taste the result immediately afterwards. “We should make this at home too!” exclaimed Luisa while eating her ice cream from the bag. Kinnunen also explained the concept behind the experiment, namely increasing entropy and lowering the freezing point of water. He also demonstrated the opposite effect with the help of a handwarmer cushion containing acetate crystals that emit heat upon crystallization. 

Children watching a researcher sitting at a computer in the Low Temperature Laboratory
Mikko Mikkola (right) with Jon, Luisa and visiting Professor Marcelo Marques (left) from Brazil in the Low Temperature Laboratory

The morning finished with a tour of the Nanotalo building given by Laboratory Manager Mikko Mikkola who led the group to laboratories where researchers experiment with living cells, then gave a tour of the Low Temperature Laboratory and a viewing of the Nanomicroscopy Centre. Here, the children met researchers who were live at work investigating spiky nanostructures, as well as 1000-year old bronze pieces excavated near Tampere. One of the most impressive machines was the powerful cryo transmission electron microscope (hosted at the OtaNano national infrastructure) housed in its own protective room with fiberoptic lights suspended in the ceiling above the instrument. “This machine was really cool and it’s so expensive” commented Jon afterwards.

After finishing the tour, the children had time to digest their impressions over lunch at a campus restaurant. Next year, everybody hopes to be back to see more from the world of science and technology at Aalto University, maybe bringing along their younger siblings too. The parents all agreed it was definitely worthwhile and fun to bring their children along to work.

The Department of Applied Physics is grateful to their dedicated staff who made this event possible on short notice.

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