Kickin’ Up Our Heels with the Cowboys and Cowgirls of Culbertson

Our recent MosSE tour stop brought us 540 miles from Missoula along the Hi-Line to Culbertson, MT, at the very eastern border with North Dakota. To put that distance in perspective, a 540-mile drive would take you from Washington, DC to Portland, ME!

Culbertson is a small Montana farming and ranching town, and now an oil boom town, with a population of a little under 1,000. The town’s centennial marker outside the library reads: “1887-1997 And Still Growing,” words that ring particularly true with the recent influx of people streaming into the Bakken region for jobs on the oil patch.

Culbertson may be a small town, but it has a big spirit. The Culbertson Cowgirls and Cowboys are involved in pretty much any activity you can think of, from Future Farmers of America to forensics. Of particular interest to us, the school also has a thriving Science Olympiad team.

Starting off our Culbertson field trips with the colossal brain!

A Culbertson student explores the Colossal Brain

During our visit we saw the entire school, 255 students in all, from the exuberant kindergarteners to the bright high school seniors. We knew we were doing something right when we walked down the hallway and the students all excitedly waved and told us how they were coming to Family Science Night.

Our entry (and exit) into the exhibit. I don't think the kids wanted to leave, but leaving through the massive Big Sky Brain Project brain makes it a little bit better.

Students entered and exited the exhibit through the massive Big Sky Brain Project brain.

The community turned out in full force for Family Science Night, which included a Science Olympiad Team bake sale, 143 kids and parents, and even live music from some talented high school pianists. The bake sale raised money for the team to buy t-shirts for their club and help to cover the costs to compete in the upcoming Bozeman tournament.

High school students providing some tunes for Family Science Night!

High school students provided some tunes for Family Science Night

What do fruit flies have to do with the brain? These kids already know, I guess you will have to ask them (or us) to find out!

What do fruit flies have to do with the brain? These kids are finding out.

Some of the Science Olympiad Team members modeling their tasty baked goods. It was too hard to walk past the delicious smells all night, so Matt caved and bought some cookies - what a great cause!

Some of the Science Olympiad Team members displaying their tasty baked goods.

PTC paper at the senses station proved to be a big hit as kids roped their parents into a genetic taste test to see if they had the genes to detect a bitter flavor. As always, visual rebound attracted the crowds as waves of kids sent basketballs flying into the air while experimenting with brain plasticity. Live brain dissections every half hour also drew large crowds. We had the opportunity to lead hands-on brain dissections, and every kid and parent who wanted a chance to try their hand at being a brain surgeon had an opportunity to make a few cuts of their own.

Future scientists of America engulfed in the giant brain! If they don't eat their brain food it looks like the brain might eat them . . .

Future scientists of America engulfed in the giant brain

Hopefully the Culbertson Cowboys and Cowgirls continue to stay passionate and engaged in science, because the kids from this award-winning Future Farmers of America school are going to make great future scientists in America!

This tour stop was powered by the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation.


Box Elder in Motion

MosSE is back on the road! This fall our truck wheels were turning as we traveled to Rocky Boy Reservation, the home of the Chippewa Cree Tribe, to explore the physics of motion. The Box Elder Bears’ gym transformed into a science wonderland as discs spun on the turntable and the Bernoulli blower floated wiffle balls into the air.

The Science Circus Arrives at Box Elder!

MosSE arrives at Box Elder

North Central Montana Talent Search helped bring this fun and interactive exhibit to the students of Rocky Boy. NCMTS works to encourages all students to consider higher education. The day went by so quickly as kids rushed in and out of the gym spinning, turning, and flying with the exhibits.

Box Elder students got to fly a plane over the Missoula Valley! Most of them tried not to crash . . .

Box Elder students got to fly a plane over the Missoula Valley with the flight simulator.

After a long day of field trips with over 550 students, we geared up for a Family Science Night, an opportunity for all of the students to come back and explore science and play with the exhibits even more. They also were able to show their parents what they had learned about physics that day, and the night was filled with laughter as parents watched their children learn about inertia while spinning around on a lazy Susan. 85 students and their family members celebrated science, community, and learning at our Family Science Night.

Students took a spin to learn about inertia!

Students took a spin to learn about inertia

We had such a great time meeting the Box Elder community and it seemed like the teachers and students had a great time too. Some kids asked us to come back next year and even continued exploring the exhibit right up until we had packed it away. We can’t wait to see some of these future scientists again someday at the University of Montana!

Box Elder's Mini-Scientist

Box Elder’s youngest scientist

Rocky Boy Students Explore Motion with MosSE

The school year is young, and the young scientists at Rocky Boy School were fantastic in putting some new knowledge into motion: the science of motion, to be specific.  Last week, MosSE was thrilled to bring an exhibit about flight, spin, gravity, and magnets to Rocky Boy, where we were greeted not only with amazing hospitality, but also some very excellent enthusiasm and curiosity from the students.

Ellen talking about the motion of spin with junior high science students.

456 Rocky Boy students experimented and played with a giant turntable, a flight simulator, a machine that makes a ball float, a variety of spinning tops, and much more.  We learned about Isaac Newton.  We learned about Johannes Kepler.  We learned about Daniel Bernoulli.  We even learned about everyone’s favorite frizzy haired, tongue-sticking-out physicist, Albert Einstein. Students of all ages at Rocky Boy left the museum (their school gym) with lots of new knowledge about physics.  What a great group of kids and welcoming faculty and staff.


Exploring magnetism

Turntable fun in high school science class

Enjoying the turntable exhibit

Scaling down some big concepts is often the first step in learning about scientific laws and ideas.  Since seeing solar systems and black holes first hand can be quite difficult, check out the Gravity Well.  Watching the coins spin never gets old:

Well, well, well... If it isn't the Gravity Well.

Well, well, well… If it isn’t the Gravity Well.

Students also flocked to our ever-popular flight simulator.

The sky's the limit when one has a curious mind!

The sky’s the limit when one has a curious mind

On behalf of spectrUM, the University of Montana, and science educators everywhere, thank you Rocky Boy School for welcoming us into your school and community and sharing in the experience of scientific discovery with us. Warm regards, Ellen and Matt

New tradition taking root at annual Arlee Powwow Celebration

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Every July, the beat of the drum, the chants of singers and the pounding of feet in the dance arbor reverberate throughout the Jocko Valley. The reason: the annual 4th of July Powwow Celebration on the Flathead Reservation, the social and cultural highlight of the Salish and Pend d’Oreille tribal people of the Flathead Nation. Singers, dancers and their entourages as well as visitors from throughout Indian Country, the nation and some international folks flock to the colorful event to witness how the tribal people celebrate their traditions and culture as well as the American holiday of independence.

This year, a new tradition took root at the celebration. For three days during the 116th Arlee Powwow Celebration, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and education leaders on the Flathead Reservation partnered with spectrUM to host a Science Learning Tent. Under the big tent, children of all ages extracted DNA, engineered flying machines, and learned about the exciting opportunities that await them in higher education and STEM careers.


The spectrUM Science Learning Tent featured a different theme each day: health sciences, ecosystem science, technology, engineering and innovation. Local STEM and higher education role models, “near-peer” high school interns, and spectrUM educators led the activities and guided demonstrations throughout the event.

Highlights of the Science Learning Tent included an exhibit featuring the first-ever Native American satellite, which will be launched next August on a NASA rocket, as well as a Family Astronomy Night featuring stargazing, astronomers, telescope activities and popcorn.

All together, the Science Learning Tent at the 116th Arlee Powwow Celebration served over 2,000 youth, who learned from and were inspired by the 50 community members who served as educators and STEM role models.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for the University of Montana to come to the powwow,” one community member said.

“We’ve never had anything like this for the children,” said another adding, “I’m amazed.”

Our favorite responses came from the kids: “Will you be here tomorrow?” and  “Are you coming back next year?”

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The partnership that generated the Science Learning Tent recently garnered an honorable mention in the Noyce Foundation’s Bright Lights Community Engagement Awards competition. The distinction honors spectrUM’s innovative collaboration with educators and scientists on the Flathead Reservation.

spectrUM and our community partners wish to extend our thanks to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and the Arlee Celebration Committee for their support and commitment to promoting STEM opportunities and higher education. spectrUM is also grateful to our Community Advisory Group, who envisioned the Science Learning Tent and tirelessly worked to see  it through. We are especially grateful to Bernie Azure, Cindi Laukes, Stephanie Gillin, Whisper Means and Dr. LeAnna Muzquiz.

To see more local news coverage of spectrUM’s Science Learning Tent at the 116th Arlee Celebration check out the following stories:


Spring Tour in a Nutshell

Overall, for the spring MosSE tour, we visited thirteen schools and saw 6,364 people. Yowza! That’s a lot of people! Highlights  of our spring tour included:

-The debut of the Big Sky Big Brain.

-Our first-time participation in Chicks in Science in Billings

-An unexpected appearance from Ryan Rominger, a psychologist from the Fort Benton area

-Every student, parent, teacher and staff member we came across!

10366298_10152464920538745_5202909282851719498_nSince the launch of our mobile program in 2006, spectrUM has driven over 26,825 miles to bring educators, exhibitions, and programs to 69 different schools and libraries in 26 Montana counties, including all 7 Montana Indian Reservations. Altogether, our mobile science programs have served over 42,887 people, of whom over 30% are Native American and 75% from rural communities.


Back to the Bitterroot

After a fantastic spring of bringing science to schools throughout Montana, it was time for MosSE to settle down and bring the season to a close. Our last stop of Spring 2014 took us back to the Bitterroot Valley to the town of Florence. There we were greeted with beautiful clear blue skies, green fields, the gorgeous Bitterroot Mountains, and curious, inquisitive, friendly Florence Carlton School students. They were treated to one of spectrUM’s newest traveling exhibit pieces, a brain big enough to host a picnic under it.10311833_10152464921753745_7174284690515694585_n

 The Big Brain

Though the Brain Exhibit has made plenty of appearances, this was the Giant Brain’s official debut. And what a debut it was! We spent a total of three days in Florence, with a Family Science Night to top it off. A total of 582 people came through and participated.10330337_10152464919398745_4137152580542437082_n

 Mind Flex: the force is strong with this one!

Like a falcon (a Florence Falcon!) from above, the students came swooping down upon us with their incredible knowledge, personal brain-related stories, and all-out enthusiasm to learn more. There could not have been a better finish to this year’s Spring MosSE tour.10390577_10152464918923745_5883022363238357517_nVisual Rebound: 3 pointer!10406567_10152464918223745_467432783688819188_nBrain Dissection: when all else fails, check the key

Our special thanks go out to the Jane S. Heman Foundation for powering this event and to all the staff, students, and parents of the Florence Carlton Schools. We hope to be back again soon. MosSE wishes all the wonderful schools from this Spring’s tour a gorgeous and science-full Summer. Until we see you again soon, take care.

Taking it to the Hi-Line

Let’s not kid ourselves: Montana is large state. From west to east, the state spans 545 miles. Earlier this spring, MosSE made it as far east as Billings, but this time, we set out sights on a new horizon: north. We settled ourselves back into the Uhaul and took off. The Hi-Line was drawing us to it like a magnetic force on ferromagnetic material (in fact, the Uhaul is ferromagnetic). Before we knew it, we were in Harlem, home of the Wildcats. We put ourselves in motion and got the Motion exhibit up and running. At center of the gym we inserted the black hole (gravity well).Image


Gravity Well: Not even light can escape

Though the force of gravity is quite strong in objects of gigantic mass such as the earth, it would appear centripetal force can prove difficult for many students.



A perfect demonstration of centripetal force and how center of mass affects the speed of rotation

We got some great feedback from our hosts! A 7th-grade teacher in Harlem told us,” I found the demonstrations very informative, fun, and interactive. The students were very engaged and were respectful to the presenters. I would definitely recommend this program to other schools.”

After an action-packed day of Motion in Harlem, we had to keep up our momentum and continue on to Havre.

Traveling westward just 30 miles south of the Canadian border, we ended up in Havre. There we once again got the Motion exhibits ready and set for another day of science! I will let the pictures do the talking.



Talent Search Volunteers



 Flight Simulation: Pilot and his ten co-pilotsIMG_0323


 Spin Table: Angular Momentum keeps those wheels standingIMG_0346

 Flying Cups: more surface area equals more lift

In Havre we saw 150 people and in Harlem 167, putting the Hi-Line total at 317!!! Our special thanks go out to North Central Montana Talent Search for powering this amazing journey and experience up on the Hi-Line. Specifically, we would also like to thank Marcia and the volunteers from North Central Montana Talent Search for being there to support us in both places and all the school staff and students that made our time there memorable.
Next destination: Florence.

Motion on the Rocky Mountain Front

Hello, MosSE readers!

Can you explain the physics of  flight?  What type of motion stabilizes flight and can turn topsy turvy into stable soaring? MosSE explored these questions of physics, engineering, and the technology when our Motion exhibit visited  246 students in Browning, MT,  the largest community of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, this spring.

Flight is simplytug-of-war When lift exceeds the force of gravity and thrust overcomes the friction of air molecules (called drag), we soar!


Browning Middle Schoolers explore flight with MosSE’s Bernoulli blower. The blower demonstrates the phenomenon of lift. Fast moving air create lower pressure, causing the ball to float!


With Motion student’s curiosity and excitement ignite. Our exhibits encourage inquiry and students can seek their own answers.  Scientist are created in the opportunity to simply ask “What happens if we….”


MosSE’s hands-on exhibits encourage students to observe and seek answers. “What’s happening here?”  we  ask. At the Bernoulli blower, students observe the erratic  movements and fluctuating flight pattern of a ball.

Next, students design wings to stabilize  flight with our Flying Cups Exhibit. First, they toss paper cuts over a fan–no surprises yet! Then, they cut the cups to create wings.  With their expanded surface area, the cups float gracefully over our heads.

“It needs to spin!”  they decide, recalling the strong stabilizing force of  angular momentum we explored earlier.

Soon their flying cups are soaring 20 ft above our fan, spinning like a top and landing gently and right-side up.



MosSE  brings this same  level of excitement to the incredible opportunities held in STEM careers. For Motion, we use our ever-popular airplane flight simulator to explore some of the exciting career possibilities in physics and technology!

Set up to fly out of Browning’s own Starr Airport, 7th and 8th graders investigated their own backyard: the Rocky Mountain Front. They were having a blast but also mimicking the way researchers today gather remote imagery data in this stunning and complex landscape.

For many, the  field of remote imagery was new and exciting!  We look forward to many more Motion tour stops with MosSE!


This stop was powered by the Montana GEAR UP Program, which believes that postsecondary education is possible for all Montana students, regardless of economic background. We give special thanks to Melanie Magee, GEAR UP coordinator at Browning Middle School. Melanie believes that spectrUM’s MosSE program fosters this possibility for  all her students!   We were so honored to bring the excitement and possibilities of Motion to Browning.

Thanks for stopping in readers!  Check back soon to see where we’re U’haulin’ next!


Seeley Lake Discovery Days

spectrUM had the honor of being invited to the Seeley Lake Discovery Days this year.


The Discovery Days’ theme this year was plasticity and boy, did spectrUM ever have some fun activities to share around this theme. Neuroplasticity  refers to how –and in what ways–the brain changes over the course of a lifetime. We led brain dissections, explored optical illusions, played games about neuron communication, and compared mammalian (and cockroach!) brain sizes. All and all, we explored the wonders of the brain with 110 Seeley Lake high schoolers. We hope to come again next year! Thanks for inviting us, Seeley Lake!


I Spy the Missouri


spectrUM educator Lily demonstrates neuron communication with a little help from a volunteer

Fort Benton, a friendly town located on the Missouri River, was established by Auguste Chouteau and Pierre Chouteau, Jr. of St. Louis in 1847. Who would have guessed that over 165 years later, this fur trading post would become a destination for MosSE? Last year, we brought Hands on Health, and the students were great. This year, we brought Brain, and the students exceeded all expectations! With two full days in one of the oldest settlements in the American West, the fun never stopped. We served a total of 370 people, including K-8 of Fort Benton, Geraldine, and Highwood. On top of that, a lively Family Science Night brought in many families and a special guest. In the words of one teacher at Fort Benton, “The kids had a wonderful time! Thank you for being so enthusiastic and showing them how much fun we can have in science!” We would go on telling you how great of a time it was, but a picture is worth a thousand words, and if these pictures had frontal lobes, then they would have a lot to say. The River Press of Fort Benton also came on by and put together a lovely article. Be sure to check it out at:

Though we only were only in Fort Benton for two days, we felt like it was a home away from home. The students and residents treated us like one of their own. We received many hellos and “hey, you’re those science dudes!” while walking around the town. We look forward to returning once more to this lovely town on the Missouri River.

Our thanks go out to Chouteau County PEAK for powering this event, Anna Arganbright for helping organize the details, the teachers, staff, and students of Fort Benton, Geraldine, and Highwood, and all the residents of Fort Benton. Go Longhorns!

Here is a smattering of photos from our wonderful visit to Fort Benton:



Local role model Ryan Rominger poses next to the Colossal Brain.


Getting up close and personal with fruit flies


Geraldine came to visit our exhibit


Can you make the ball float using only your brain waves?


Exploring the eye-brain connection at the senses station


Brain waves in motion