Cool Science: Student Uses Liquid Nitrogen for Peer Lesson

Eighth grade and high school students crowded around in a semi-circle, but at a safe distance, to watch as senior Zachary Wagner, standing atop a courtyard picnic table, prepared a visual to support his explanation of why lightning creates thunder. As they looked on, Wagner poured boiling water over a container sitting on the ground. As the water hit the container full of liquid nitrogen, a thermal reaction occurred and with a loud, “boom,” Wagner “disappeared” in a haze of steamy nitrogen and water vapor!

“Wow!” remarked a student watching as the clouds dissipated. “That was so cool! I didn’t really expect that!”

Wagner gave his presentation, an addendum to his physics class curriculum, to students during a special assembly at Mount Madonna School (MMS) on Wednesday.

“I have always loved sharing my passion for science with others,” said Wagner. “Ever since I was little, I have been doing science experiments with my dad, including those involving liquid nitrogen and dry ice. It is from this passion and desire to share the wonder of science with others that I developed my presentation curriculum.”

As part of this visual, and hands-on lesson, Wagner takes the students through a variety of different concepts about physics and chemistry, including how carbonation yields carbonic acid, and the effects of Boyle’s law on people’s everyday lives.

Along with the scientific explanations he included several fun – and tasty – activities, and engaged his peers in carbonating apple juice, and making ice cream and freeze-dried marshmallows using liquid nitrogen to share with the other students.

“Given Zach’s interest in pursuing engineering and science in college, this lesson was a good opportunity for him and his peers,” commented high school teacher Nicole Tervalon. “He stepped up and was literally learning on his feet, adjusting his presentation as he went along based on the questions or knowledge of the other students, and asking questions of teachers who were present as needed. It was very interactive, educational – and fun!”

“Since I love doing this presentation so much, I plan to repeat it for our sixth and seventh grade classes. I truly believe that sharing with others just how fascinating science can be is crucial to securing the future of aspiring STEM enthusiasts.”


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Director of Marketing & Communications, [email protected]

Nestled among the redwoods on 355 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a community of learners dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believe a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.