Purdue University
Entomology Department
Search the Department of Entomology

Fifth-graders get a bug day

Journal and Courier
October 11, 2006

Professor, Tom Turpin and assistants puts on a magic show for area fifth graders at the annual Insectaganza event.

Tom Turpin, a Purdue University professor of entomology, was having some difficulty calling up the magic for his magic show at Tuesday's annual "Insectaganza" affair.

Talking about the similarities between fireflies and glow sticks, Turpin kept asking his audience full of young pupils to help him magically light a glow stick.

Hundreds of children in the Class of 1950 Lecture Hall roared with laughter as Turpin tried unsuccessfully to light the stick after covering it with a handkerchief.

"He can't do it!" several exclaimed, dissolving into giggles as Turpin finally put both hands inside the handkerchief and very obviously snapped it in the center.

More than 1,500 Tippecanoe County fifth graders attend the hands-on insect-fest each year, which focuses on teaching entomology and science through fun events like Turpin's glow stick silliness.

"But seriously," Turpin said as the laughter finally subsided, "By studying the light of fireflies, scientists realized you can put their chemicals in a tube and you can make this stick glow."

Students learned that two types of chemicals in a firefly's body react with oxygen to produce their greenish glow.

Skylar Sykes, a 12-year-old Miller Elementary School student, said he enjoyed the day, but didn't feel like working with bugs made them less creepy.

"I've always been OK with them," Sykes said with a smile. "They're neat."

But Dakota Clark, 11, who is also a Miller student, said Insectaganza has changed the way he looks at crawly critters.

"I have a better understanding," said Clark. "I learned I shouldn't step on them anymore."

Turpin hopes some of the children will be inspired by the day, which included a quiz bowl about entomology, insect dissection and presentations on insect biology in addition to the magic show.

"First, they get to have a college experience," Turpin said. "They walk around to some different buildings and go to some classes like regular college students, so hopefully they'll begin thinking about school."

He also wouldn't mind if a few of them decided science and perhaps entomology in particular, could be a passion for them.

"In a fun way, we're trying to teach them about science and technology. We use insects because that's what we're all about."