Top Secret Science Offers ‘Fun’ Experiments for Local Students
CHELMSFORD — About 27 years ago, Michael Bergen became a scientist with no scientific background or formal education.
He adopted his signature lab coat not to do research or study data, but to make science fun.
Bergen is the founder of Top Secret Science, a non-profit organization focused on science education, conducting hands-on work with young students across New England. Originally based in Woburn, we moved to Suite 117, 68 Princeton Street, Chelmsford about six months ago.
By “making and taking home” science experiments, children develop special memories tied to a theme, Bergen said. And as students are getting fewer and fewer science lessons in the classroom, supplementing that learning is even more important, Bergen said.
“The problem is that schools feel they have to do more reading and math, and they’re supposed to do a certain amount of science each week, but they just don’t get it,” he said. “It’s hard to see sometimes, but their knowledge and skill levels are far behind. They still love science, but they don’t have many different skills at the moment.”
The pandemic could be to blame, Bergen said. Meanwhile, Top Secret Science created a packaged experiment kit that students could take home because they couldn’t go to school like they normally would.
Luckily, “science never goes away,” he said. In total, she teaches up to 1,200 students a week with her nearly 700 different experiments through elementary school visits, birthday parties, sponsored family STEM nights, and summer camps.
Bergen says a perfect experiment has four parameters. Time he should be less than 15 minutes, be completely safe, be affordable, and “work at least 95% of the time.”
Popular ones include creating instant snow, crystals and magic sand, Bergen said.Kids also love magnets and electricity, he added.
“Slime is like 2015,” says Bergen. “The number one thing they do is messy stuff that has to do with chemistry. The point is that if something blows up, everyone is happy.”
Many of the experiments were conducted in Chelmsford, “probably the only scientific laboratory in the United States,” Bergen said. In this space, he can test out his STEM projects, old and new, and let kids put their scientific skills to the test. Plus, it glows in the dark.
A move to Chelmsford meant a larger “unique” space, proximity to the Merrimack Valley, and connectivity to Chelmsford and Lowell Public Schools, which the organization had visited in the past.
Top Secret Science has also worked with Chelmsford Community Education for the past 25 years, Bergen said.
The Chelmsford Business Development Office cut the Top Secret ribbon on Tuesday.
Bergen didn’t start out as a scientist and had no plans to become a scientist when he gave a science presentation to his kindergarten son’s elementary school in Winchester. As Bergen recalls, he “wasn’t involved at all” as 400 students watched.
He was a self-proclaimed businessman who had sold a small publishing company, but was looking for something new. As he watches a school-sponsored show, a light bulb goes off in Bergen’s head.
“Things burned out and caught fire and[he]was doing all sorts of cool things and I just looked around and 80% of the kids were simply not paying attention.” “So I just thought, ‘Hey, what do you know? I think I can do this.’
Six months later he started the lab. He set about researching the kinds of science, math, engineering, and technology projects that schools would need, and which projects kids would be passionate about.
That same son, Ross Bergen, is now in his 30s and is his father’s partner.
In just an hour, kids will do five different experiments they can take home, said Michael Bergen. Other science presenters and educators, such as Boston’s Science Museum, can’t say that, he added.
“They’re basically shows, they’re on stage, they’re just showing kids about science,” Bergen said. We believe it’s not the way we learn.”
At just $5 to $10 per child, programs in Top Secret Science are also becoming more accessible, Bergen said. Since moving in, they have received so much positive feedback, host his 6-7 birthday parties a month, and continue their mission to bring more science into school.
Middle and high school students aren’t left out of the equation — Bergen says top secret science plays a role in “enriching their curriculum.”
Bergen said that wherever they go, it’s important work.
“Many schools have fallen into a deep sleep for several years during the pandemic, even though they did little science,” he said. “Now they’re trying to get back on track, but that’s just an indication…they need that stuff involved.”