ChemClub Tip: Photo Releases

I am writing this at the end of my first week of classes and am quite sure that many of you will have started also or will be about to start. For me, that means ChemClub activities are starting again. I have a tip about Club photo releases that I thought other Clubs might find useful.

My school (and probably most every other school in the country) requires me to send home a course outline, lab safety contract, and parent sign-off when a student checks into my class. I have now started to include my ChemClub photo release form with the course outline. Now, it is obvious that this will not reach every student that comes and participates in ChemClub activities over the course of the year, but it does reach a large number of them. It also makes it easy for me to say at our first or second meeting that if you are in my class I already have your photo release and only need them from the students who are not currently in my class.

I routinely take photographs in my classroom of students working on different activities. My district has a standard photo release every student needs to turn in since they encourage us to record our lectures for training and evaluation purposes. I know if I come across a great photo of a ChemClub activity, I no longer have to worry about securing more releases to share it, such as with other ChemClubs or my American Chemical Society local section.

It might not be the biggest idea you were looking for this year, but I hope that other Clubs will find it useful.

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ChemMatters Infographic: Why Bacon Smells So Good

Why bacon smells so goodBacon and eggs. A bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. Bacon crumbles sprinkled over roasted Brussels sprouts. Even a doughnut topped with maple icing and, you may have guessed, bacon. Hungry yet? These are all food items that have one time or another been on my menu. The common thread, of course, is the crispy, tasty addition of bacon. How does bacon go from its initial properties and appearance to the flavorful, delicious cooked product that many of us love to eat? Continue reading ChemMatters Infographic: Why Bacon Smells So Good”

Summer Science at the Farmers Market

Visitors to The Dalles Farmers Market, young and old alike, were invited to take a few minutes from their shopping for fresh produce to learn a little bit about chemistry. Our ChemClub from The Dalles, Oregon, received a ChemClub Community Activities Grant to fund hands-on activities last summer and fall at our local outdoor Saturday market. Each activity related to color in some way. Our inspiration was the National Chemistry Week 2015 theme Chemistry Colors Our World.

Chem in a Bag activity

We offered the activities once a month, from June through October, at the markets community education booth. The five activities were:

  • Nano bookmarks.Visitors made bookmarks by pulling rectangles of black posterboard through a single drop of clear fingernail polish floated on the surface of a pan of water.
  • Radial chromatography.Visitors decorated squares of fabric using Sharpie markers and drops of rubbing alcohol.
  • Solar S’mores.Visitors made s’mores using solar ovens made out of pizza boxes. The activity highlighted the idea that white light is made up of all the colors of the rainbow.
  • Chem in a Bag.Visitors looked for clues that chemistry was happening in a bag with calcium chloride, baking soda, universal indicator, and water. They observed bubbles, a color change, and a temperature change.
  • Chemeleons. Visitors painted different acids and bases onto pictures of chemeleons that had been soaked in purple cabbage juice. Depending on the pH of the solution, it resulted in a different color on the paper.

Every activity began with participants getting a safety stamp. After they listened to the brief safety rules, each person got a fruit-themed rubber stamp inked on their hand. For each of our activities that a child visited, they received an entry into an end-of-market drawing for fun science toys from Educational Innovations. We had a great time, and many people got a chance to try some summer science!

Martian Gardening

Look at a raw potato and you might visualize tater tots. Potato chips. French fries. A baked potato dripping with butter. The Martian character Mark Watney looks at one and sees survival.

Readers of Andy Weir’s The Martian, including those who have joined the currently running American Chemical Society (ACS) ChemClub virtual book club, will recognize the humble potato as a key plot item. It’s a major part of Watney’s saga to survive until a possible rescue from his predicament of being left for dead on the planet Mars. He calculates that his remaining food will not provide him with enough calories to last until rescue. (Watney “spares you the math” in the book, but you can do the math yourself with the Think Like a Scientist: Back of the Envelope Calculations handout from the virtual book club resource packet.) His solution is to turn his living space into the first Martian garden, using raw potatoes sent with his mission team to use for a Thanksgiving meal as his planting material. The challenges are many.

What are the chances for actually growing food on Mars, beyond the science-based fiction of the book? A view of the planet’s dry red landscape might suggest the chances are slim. Dig deeper into the issue using additional free resources from ACS.

ChemMatters April 2017 coverChemMatters is a magazine designed for high school students to help find connections between chemistry and the world around them. The most recent issue includes the articles “Growing Green on the Red Planet” and “Open for Discussion: Surviving on Mars.” The two pieces discuss the extreme conditions astronauts would face on Mars. Although “Growing Green on the Red Planet” states that it is the most habitable planet in our solar system besides Earth, humans (and any plants) would face extremely cold temperatures, an atmosphere of 95% carbon dioxide, a lack of readily available water, and less than ideal soil. The article also touches on plant growth experiments done on Earth using volcanic soil from Hawaii to simulate Martian soil.

Readers can also take advantage of two accompanying resources for “Growing Green on the Red Planet”: a Teacher’s Guide and Background Information. The Teacher’s Guide is packed with tools you can use with the article itself and extensions to take the article topic further. You’ll find an anticipation guide, student questions and answers, possible student misconceptions, links to lesson plans on the science of soil and the chemistry of fertilizer, and more. I found the beginning of the Background Information particularly interesting. It summarizes the spacecraft that have been used to study Mars and the resulting data/information obtained by each. The first was in 1964, and a future mission is in the works.

The ChemMatters site also highlights the video “Can We Grow Plants on Mars?” from D News. At three-and-a-half minutes, it could be a good way to kick off a discussion of the chances of Martian gardening.

Together, these free resources are ways to link science fiction from The Martian with real-life connections to Mars and its possibilities.

Science in Fiction

The Martian Header

I don’t even remember why I chose it to read. Maybe it was random buzz on the internet. I mainly needed something to kill time on a cross-country flight. On the plane, I cracked it open. Just a few pages in, I knew it was different. An interesting science fiction story, but it was something more that appealed. It was how science and problem solving were woven directly into the plot of The Martian at nearly every turn. Continue reading “Science in Fiction”