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National slime week celebrates science

By Donna Carman

WELL actually, it was National Science Week, celebrated by the Mount Barker Community Resource Centre with a ‘slime’ event – but slime is such an eyecatching word!

‘The Science of Slime’ featured guest speaker Dr Harriet Paterson from Albany and a range of hands-on activities created by centre staff.

Claudia McGarry assists with the creation of slime. Photo by Donna Carman

Manager Martina Meinen has a longstanding tradition of providing science opportunities for the Mt Barker community. “We like to do an event each year, with something quirky to help people to engage with science,” she said.

Dr Paterson delivered clear scientific information with entertaining examples of slimy creatures. Slime is abundant in nature, she said, and when produced by animals is usually called mucus. It exists on our bodies wherever there is no skin, and in our digestive tract and airways. Corals produce a mucus for sun protection, while barnacles make a ‘superglue’ slime to hold on to rocks.

Slime is high in protein, and can be a protective covering produced by larger life forms, or for some microscopic plants and animals simply a way of life, often only becoming ‘slime’ when millions of them get together as algal blooms and other mass assemblages.

Claudia McGarry demonstrating to the children. Photo by Donna Carman

Animal slime textures were described by Dr Paterson as ‘snottywebby’, ‘opaque’ and ‘sticky-smeary’. “Slug slime is inspiring research into surgical glue that sticks to wet surfaces,” she said. “The physical and chemical properties of a snail’s foot are being used to invent internal bandaids, to be used in place of stitches.”

Hagfish are one of the slimiest animals around and are not only incredibly ugly but can expand their mucus hundreds of thousands of times – a phenomenon now being researched for plastic and fibre technologies.

Many of those attending the event were junior primary age, and it was no small feat to hold their attention after school – though a generous afternoon tea likely nourished their attention span. Seemingly complex concepts were lapped up by even the youngest students, with their level of understanding demonstrated by the quality of their questions. “Science is all around us, and is for everyone,” Martina said.

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