Morning of Chemistry: An ACS ChemClub Community Activity Grant

Science is pretty cool, especially when you get to teach it using demonstrations and hands-on experiments. Thanks to a ChemClub Community Activities Grant from the American Chemical Society (ACS), students from Westside High School in Houston, Texas were able to show the 5th grade students at Askew Elementary School just how exciting chemistry can be.

Members of the Westside High School Academic Science Demonstration Chemistry Club spent 2 months during the fall semester and 2 months during the spring semester of the 2016-17 school year planning and organizing our “Morning of Chemistry” days. Once our preparation and planning was complete we presented two morning sessions to the students at Askew Elementary School. During each morning session, students learned about electric circuits, heat transfer, pressure and temperature relationships, combustion, polymers, and chemical reactions via a series of demonstrations and hands-on activities. Students were even allowed to take home a few “souvenirs” that resulted from the activities of the day!

Because science is important in many aspects of life, it’s important to get students interested early and keep them interested throughout middle school, high school, and life after graduation. The Westside High School chemistry club hopes to create citizen scientists one demo day at a time, and with the positive feedback from our first presentations, we plan to continue these “Mornings of Chemistry” next school year.

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!

ChemMatters Infographic: A Quick Guide to Organic Reactions

reductions in organic chemistry

To make sense of the endless variety of chemical reactions that can occur, chemists have devised many ways to categorize reactions that seemed similar. One early attempt to explain reactions related to combustion or the burning of various substances involved speculation that a fire-like substance called phlogiston was released. One big problem was the phlogiston could not be detected, and an even bigger problem was that substances that underwent combustion actually gained weight! Continue reading ChemMatters Infographic: A Quick Guide to Organic Reactions”

21st Century Science: STEM Careers of the Future

Career Fair

The 21st Century Science: STEM Careers of the Future and The Annual Career Fair exposed students from Ware Shoals High School and Greenwood School District 51, SC, to the multitude of career options in STEM, ACS, Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) and provide valuable insight into the educational and vocational pathways they would need to pursue to obtain a career in their fields of interest. Continue reading “21st Century Science: STEM Careers of the Future”

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.