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Bug Man visits DL school

NDSU research specialist Don Carey shows what dry ice does when placed in water -- one of the many chemical reactions Carey shows students at Roosevelt Elementary in an attempt to perk their interest in chemistry and science.1 / 2
Carbon dioxide (in the form of dry ice) is introduced to a container with burning candles, which shows kids how fire extinguishers containing the substance works.2 / 2

Research Specialist Don Carey is an NDSU entomologist, "but most people call me 'The Bug Man,'" said Carey.

Wednesday the Bug Man was in Detroit Lakes using every gross, nasty, hair-raising, stomach-turning insect he could think of to get kids at Roosevelt Elementary to think he's cool.

It worked.

"The kids think he's awesome," said Fourth Grade Teacher Karilee Traurig. "They came back so excited about bugs and science in general ... they didn't even know what entomology was yesterday, but they know what it is today."

Carey makes about 110 presentations a year throughout the Red River Valley (and a couple in the Twin Cities), visiting mostly schools and nursing homes.

Carey said this was the first time he'd been to Detroit Lakes, though.

"I just want to show them how fascinating they (insects) are," said Carey, who brought in everything from tarantulas to cockroaches.

"People always want to find dinosaur bones, well, get yourself a cockroach -- they were there before the dinosaurs. It's a living, walking pre-dinosaur."

Teachers say the Bug Man's antics, mixed with real scientific information is enough to perk the kids' interest.

"It's fun, and we learn a lot of cool things, but the bugs are pretty gross," said Roosevelt fourth-grader Tirzah Sandoval, as classmate Jesse Olson adds, "To me? No, not gross. I want a scorpion now!"

For people who don't think they deal with insects very often, Carey will kindly point out that they most likely do.

"I'll bring out a little bitty flour beetle, and I'll tell them, you work with this every day, because it lives in flour," said Carey, "If you eat anything made out of flour -- from pizza crust to chocolate chip cookies to the piece of toast you had for breakfast -- if you bite into it and it's a little bit extra crunchy, you're probably eating part of that beetle."

Carey also shares with the children how the USDA works, implementing minimum/maximum standards in food regulations.

He says it's impossible to keep insects out of food, so the USDA just ensures that they're kept to a minimum.

"You like peanut butter?" he smiles evilly, "One tablespoon of peanut butter is allowed to have 50 insect parts. If you're making a peanut butter sandwich, you probably use two tablespoons, so you can legally eat up to 100 insect parts. It puts a new meaning to crunchy peanut butter, huh?"

He also advised the children to let their parents have the first squirt of ketchup because tomato-related insect parts, which are inevitably in ketchup, rise to the top and sit in the watery substance that comes out of the bottle first.

Food for thought.

He also points out that while most people call a bee's product "honey," he calls it "bee barf" because of the fact that bees store their nectar in a special stomach and regurgitate it once they're back in the hive.

Thursday Carey was back at the Junior High Auditorium for a second wave of science -- this time it was to blow things up.

"Most kids think, 'Ah, chemistry is boring and it's for old people in lab coats and nerdy glasses,' so I try to get kids interested in it," said Carey, who demonstrated a number of "Weird Science" phenomena.

"If you burn something, freeze something or blow something up, you're a hit," said Carey, after dipping a marshmallow into liquid nitrogen and convincing one of the teachers to eat it.

"It's 340 degrees below zero," said Carey, with a mouthful of frozen marshmallow.

He also amazed kids by dumping a whole pail of liquid nitrogen on the stage, demonstrating how chemical changes happen in the blink of an eye, changing the substance from a liquid to bubbles that glide across the floor like tiny beads.

"It's so cold that as soon as it hits, it turns into a vapor," said Carey. "That's why those bubbles move around so fast; they're actually floating on a cushion of air, riding on its own gas, like air hockey."

Carey has been spreading his love of science to mostly elementary and junior high-aged children for about 30 years now, hoping his presentations instill an appreciation for science.

He says fourth grade through eighth grade is typically when students begin to lose interest in the sciences.

"Chemistry can be boring," said Carey. "If it's boring, it becomes hard; if it's hard they won't do well. And we're competing now with video games, Netflicks, ipods ... but if we can just keep their interest through junior high, you've got them."

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