Logo: University of Southern California

Iridescent Provides A Childhood of Science

Young children learn musical instrument engineering at Iridescent, taught by USC engineering students.
Shako Liu
August 23, 2012 —
Click here for a photo slideshow.

Science and engineering is not just a grown-up game. Small children from age 6 to 9 in the Iridescent science camp also found it lots of fun this summer. The classroom was like a tumultuous zoo filled with running children eager to pick up their self-made musical instruments and perform. These children were curious about everything, from the shape of cookies to the way water runs in the dispenser.

In the class, USC biomedical engineering student Sydney Thayer lectured about the relationship between pitch and frequency, something that might confuse many adults. These young children, though, seemed very responsive to all the concepts. They imitated low and high pitch as the lecture flowed.

From time to time, they were distracted by their own little games under the table, and some kids tickled others when they raised hands for questions. The lecture paused every once in a while because some of them asked Thayer to go back and repeat.

This week was about musical instrument engineering at Iridescent, a nonprofit organization trying to empower communities with the knowledge of science and engineering and ignite children’s interest in science and engineering. Children learn the physics of sound, and how musical instruments create sound by vibrating in different ways. After the lecture, children get to make their own musical instruments like panpipe, trombone, tambourine, and clarinet.

When Iridescent started five years ago, it specifically targeted family and the program was taught in an elementary school setting. An early association with science and engineering would allow parents to foster and nurture their children’s curiosity and enthusiasm in the field, said Jenna Blanton, Los Angeles science studio director at Iridescent.

“It’s all about exposure,” Blanton said, “Showing them science is very creative, engineering is a huge design process…It gives them a different perception of what science is. I think you’ll be surprised that a lot of these kids will remember this experience.”

Through this program, Blanton hopes children could start off on a correct path of science at a young age, and become more comfortable and confident engaging in science and engineering when they grow older.

“Science and engineering is important,” Blanton said, “Because it’s the foundation of everything.”

Making musical instruments could be so simple. They made panpipes with straws, and tambourines with wood and plastic. A trombone was made of straws and cups. The kids constantly competed for attention. The boys turned the panpipes into hand guns, and chased each other around. Girls were trying to make a song with their trombones and clarinets. Arik, 10, said he liked engineering better after the class. He understood all the concepts, and would definitely consider going for science and engineering in the future.

In the crowd, 8-year-old Angel  was sitting quietly at the corner. The shy little one wore an over-sized purple t-shirt and had the book Cat Stories with her all the time. At the beginning, Angel didn’t seem to blend in, but gradually she became more social as more assignments coming up, and more interaction with other children. She proudly laid out all the instruments she had made, and played with her favorite one—the string phone. In a blink, she picked up a hammer and started making a percussion instrument.
“Who has a good time?” Thayer asked the crowd.

“Me!” Angel raised her hand.