"Don't eat the marshmallows," she cautioned. "They're part of an experiment."
Such was the scene last week at the Oakley Library, where dozens of elementary students gathered for a hands-on exploration of the world of atoms, molecules and matter.
Called Mad Science, the traveling lab is designed to get kids excited about science by creating a user-friendly environment made up of silly-putty polymers and candy molecules.
"The whole idea behind the program," said Mad Science instructor Dora Wedekind, "is to introduce science to kids at an early age and show them how fun it can be. We try to take some of the intimidation out of science."
The mostly 6-to-7-year-old crowd at the recent library event was enthusiastic, polite and anything but intimidated.
"Does anyone know what matter is?" asked Wedekind, as a dozen hands went up.
"Matter is being mad at her," said one little blonde.
Matter, Wedekind went on to explain, is anything that takes up space. Examples of matter are shoes, socks and books.
"Can anyone tell me something that takes up space?" she asked, as one little girl quietly pointed at her baby brother.
Creating chains of water molecules - the toothpicks and marshmallows serving as the props - Wedekind asked her students to hold their works of art up high for all to see. "OK, now eat your molecules," she shouted, to the delight of her audience.
Wedekind grabbed the kids' attention through a series of short experiments and explanations, moving swiftly through each topic and handing out plenty of praise - along with the marshmallows.
"I really enjoy working with the kids," said Wedekind. "This was a very good group; quiet and respectful. It's very rewarding to see them get excited. They are like little sponges. I enjoy planting their first seeds of interest."
Mad Science is a worldwide organization that has franchises throughout Northern California. Its presentations are available for parties and special events. For more information, visit www.madscience.org/mtdiablo or call 687-1900.