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Weird Science

It was all science - even though the way he presented it to kids, it might have seemed like magic.

A class trip of students watched in wonder as New York City's own nutty professor poured a beaker of clear fluid into a second beaker containing another clear fluid. In a modern day version of the medieval alchemist's water to wine feat, the mixture suddenly turned a bright, crimson color. He then appeared to repeat the experiment, but the fluids remained clear in color.

Vinnie Voltage then turned the glass container upside down but the fluid had apparently congealed into a Jell-O-like substance that he scooped up in his hands and molded into a snowball-shaped form. "That's what I want to do," said a wide-eyed boy, amazed that a living can be made in such a fun-filled way.

Vinnie Voltage is the stage name of Vincent Vollono, a scientific engineer for the Metropolitan Transit Authority. The Flushing native was always interested in science. "When I was 10 years old, I got my first chemistry set," he said. "Mr. Wizard was my inspiration."

Vollono graduated from City College and became a high school teacher before taking the test for engineer with MTA. His work for the agency that controls the city's subways and the Long Island Rail Road encompasses research and development on everything from the plastic used in the MetroCard to the chemical agents used for graffiti removal. The substance that the two fluids combined to form in his demonstration is used to remove spills in the subway.

Vollono also studies ways to make the electricity consumption of the transit equipment as efficient as possible. "The subway cars today use about 30 percent less electricity than those made just a few years ago," he said.

Vollono suggested "The Vinnie Voltage Science Show" as a public relations educational project to his superiors at MTA. He appears regularly at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn located in an old, no-longer-used station at Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street.

Vollono is proudest of his shows for groups of homeless kids in the city. He also does classroom demonstrations in public and parochial schools, museums, libraries, private parties and appears on "Transit News Magazine" sponsored by the Hall of Science on WNYE-TV, Channel 25.

Vinnie Voltage spreads out the paper towels on the bench for his piece de resistance: "Flubber's Cousin." "Why do we put these towels here?" he rhetorically asks the kids. "To absorb any dangerous liquids," he tells them.

He then combines two small cups of liquids into a cup. Immediately a huge, expanding blob of a rubbery material practically explodes into a two-foot tall column of black goo. The kids go wild with laughter.

The experiment is repeated, but four different test tubes are poured into the jar at once. This time four differently colored "flubber" mounds erupt to the delight of all. "I must see about 1,000 kids a week," smiled Vollono, "and I've been doing this for five years."

That works out to a quarter of a million inspired young minds.

Now that's magic.

For information on the Vinnie Voltage Science Show visit www.mta.nyc.us/museum or call 718-243-8601.

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