Students dance in a theater at Energy and U 2023

Energy and U welcomes 5,000 metro-area K-12 students to campus for engaging educational shows

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (1/19/2023) – Energy and U returned to the University of Minnesota January 5th through 13th, inviting 5,068 elementary school students from across the metro area to campus to get excited about science and engineering through a hands-on educational show. Energy and U explains the First Law of Thermodynamics to third, fourth, and fifth graders through audience-participatory demonstrations, theater-rumbling explosions, and dynamic dance-alongs. This month’s shows were presented by Chemistry Professors Christy Haynes and Lee Penn, Mechanical Engineering Professor Oggy Ilic, and Electrical Engineering Professor Sarah Swisher, with support from Chemistry Lecture Demonstration Coordinator Dr. Harrison Frisk. Students who come to experience Energy and U witness energy in action through exploding balloons filled with hydrogen, a blazing bubble bath of methane, and a swooping drone and bottle rocket. The theater space is filled with music, dancing, and a flurry of bubbles every time a new form of energy is introduced to the audience. 

“Energy and U embodies everything that good outreach should be — it’s entertaining to watch but it also makes the kids (and adults) think about energy in a scientific way.  After the smoke clears and the music ends, we have evidence that the audience remembers the lessons of our show for a long time. The show prepares them to think critically about how they use energy in their own life and hopefully to see themselves studying science in college and becoming a part of the solution,” says Prof. Aaron Massari, the show’s Scientific Director.

The show will complete another run in May, inviting more students to campus to experience Energy and U. Since its founding in 2007, the show has specialized in making science education accessible and exciting, focusing outreach efforts on schools with high percentages of students receiving free or reduced-priced lunches. The University of Minnesota Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) offsets bus transportation costs for participating schools.

Energy & U is a collaboration between the Departments of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, and Theater Arts and Dance. The show is supported by the National Science Foundation through the UMN MRSEC and the Center for Sustainable Polymers, and by Medtronic and 3M Corporations.

Professor Lee Penn lights a methane bubble bath on fire at Energy and U 2023.