Volunteer Spotlight: Maria Viitaniemi
“I tell them to trust physics,” says Maria Viitaniemi, a volunteer at Pacific Science Center, when discussing her favorite interactions at the high rail bike. “A lot of people find it scary to ride a bike suspended 30 feet from the ground. I explain to them that because the weight hanging below the bike makes their center of mass so low, it’s nearly impossible to tip the bike over. It’s exciting to see a guest get on the bike and trust science.”
Maria, a graduate student in physics, is one of the volunteers in our science interpretation program, where she interacts with guests to get them excited about science and ignite their curiosity.
On any given day, you can find Maria inviting guests to touch a brain, handling a hissing cockroach, or having conversations about the inhabitants inside the salt-water tide pool.
“[At the Science Center] you can see kids exploring their natural curiosity! Often times, they are actually conducting the scientific method without even knowing it. One of my favorite activities is guiding guests with questions when showing them the ‘Touch a Brain’ cart. With the right questions, they realize that they can come up with really sound conclusions just using their powers of observation and thinking critically. They realize they can think like a biologist or neuroscientist and sometimes start asking their own questions.”
When Maria is in the lab, she performs experiments that involve shooting lasers onto millimeter wide samples mounted inside giant, ultracold magnets (yes, you read that correctly!). Her goal is to discover the best material to use in quantum computers.
“Not only is a nice break from the lab that I work in, I think it’s important for scientists to interact with the public and discuss their work. I get excited when I talk about science with others, and even more so when those guests get excited too.”
In between her time at the Science Center and inside the lab, Maria also loves to dance.
“I’ve participated in performance dance like ballet and tap since I was five years old. Then during my undergraduate studies at the University of Florida, I began learning the Argentine Tango!”
Maria looks forward to continuing to volunteer at the Science Center through our Communications Fellowship Program, where she will receive training from our staff on how to discuss research effectively to our guests through hands-on activities and communication techniques.
“I am excited to learn how to further connect what kids are doing in the physics classes to the world around them. It’s too easy to get lost in the math and forget that it’s applicable to so many things!”
To learn more about volunteer positions like Maria’s, visit pacsci.org/volunteers/.