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Populist science at Sonoma County Fairgrounds

  • Bottles of diet cola erupt into fountains as Mentos candies react with the soda during Discovery Days on Saturday at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. (Alvin Jornada / PD)

Dozens of kids cheered as streams of diet soda shot 20 feet into the air Saturday at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

“That was pretty cool,” said Lucas Russell, 13, of Rohnert Park.

The Soda and Mentos Reaction Show by the father and son team of Donald and Sutter Laird was a crowd-pleaser at the Bay Area Science Festival’s North Bay Discovery Day, which featured about 80 exhibits in a free, daylong event.

Discovery Days At Sonoma County Fairgrounds

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But is unleashing mint candies in a capped, two-liter soda bottle, setting off an immediate gaseous geyser, really science?

“It’s a physical reaction,” said Donald Laird, a Santa Rosa Junior College computer instructor. “All the gas in the bottle bubbles at once. It took us many iterations to get this procedure down.”

“If you don’t like to get wet, back up,” his son, Sutter, advised the crowd circling their exhibit for the 12:30 p.m. show.

Across the lawn, kids were peering at the sun through five telescopes provided by volunteers from the Robert Ferguson Observatory at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.

“Pretty neat,” said Anthony Carreon, 10, of Napa. “It looked red because of the hydrogen.”

“He’s really into science,” declared his sister, Gianna, 8.

The sun appeared as a large orange ball in the telescope Bill Wheeler built, starting with a paper construction tube he bought at Home Depot.

The small dark specks on the surface are sun spots, he said. “The smallest one you can see is bigger than the Earth.”

About 10,000 adults and children, mostly elementary and pre-school aged, attended the third annual Discovery Day, sponsored by a host of businesses and organizations and aimed at inspiring students to pursue studies and careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Gerardo Carreon said it was worth bringing his three kids — Anthony, Gianna and Leah, 3 — to the event.

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