A Measure of Confusion

Typical timber frame joints
Typical timber frame joints

We had a visitor from New Zealand stay with us this summer.  While he was here he took a course on building in the Timber Frame construction style.  This involved heavy beams, mortise and tenon joints and lots of measuring.   His biggest frustration was the measuring. As he is from a metric nation, he had a very hard time with our system using inches and feet.  He had a hard time imagining what a 1/16 of an inch was and if 3/8 inch was bigger or smaller than 7/16.  With some work, he was able to finish the work and they came out great.

Students in school will be facing a similar challenge, but perhaps in reverse, as they will once again be meeting the metric system in their science classes.  In some ways the U.S. Customary system of weights and measures is much worse than any other countries.  We are stuck with a Frankenstein’s monster of measurements that involves a mishmash of systems from many different sources. We buy gasoline by the gallon, but soda by the liter.  Athletes play football on a 100-yard field, but they run the 100 meter dash in track and field.  We measure in fractions of an inch, until things get very small and then we use decimal measures, such as thousandths of an inch.ChemMatters Cover - Dec. 2014

This is the topic of an article I wrote for the December 2014 issue of ChemMatters magazine. ChemMatters is an award-winning magazine for high school chemistry, which aims to explain how chemistry works in our everyday lives. Each issue includes a Teacher’s Guide containing background information, follow-up hands-on activities, classroom demonstrations, and other resources to facilitate student comprehension.

In my article “A Measure of Confusion” I follow some the issues surrounding our current system of measures, including the loss of a NASA spacecraft that crashed instead of landing on mars. This was due to an incorrect conversion from English to metric units.

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By the way, if you join the new American Association of Chemistry Teachers (AACT), you will receive a one-year subscription to ChemMatters as part of your membership.  And there is nothing confusion about that!
 

 

Celebrating Planet Earth

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The planet Earth is our shared home with a vast number of other living organisms, so it is humanity’s duty to try to conserve it the best we can. To promote awareness of the necessity of keeping our planet healthy, people around the world celebrate Earth Day annually on April 22. In celebration of this ideal to keep our planet clean, chemists from all around the island of Puerto Rico gathered in El Paseo de La Princesa, in Old San Juan, San Juan, to highlight “The Wonders of Water,” this year’s American Chemical Society (ACS) Chemists Celebrate Earth Day theme.

Members of different ACS clubs throughout the island got together and prepared more than 20 tables with exhibits and demonstrations involving the physical and chemical properties of water, as well as explaining the importance it has not only for us humans, but for every other living being on our planet. Natives, tourists, and club members all had the chance to participate.

Students from the Specialized School in Science and Math Thomas Armstrong Toro in Ponce couldn’t miss this amazing opportunity. Ten students from the school’s ChemClub set up and helped at the school’s table, explaining the experiments and demonstrations. The explanations were fitted to the audience, from explaining to children how water and oil “don’t get along” to discussing cohesion and adhesion with advanced participants. It was also imperative that the students spoke both English and Spanish, allowing them to communicate efficiently with not only the natives, but tourists from other countries as well.

Three demonstrations that stood out were:

Surface tension

Participants were urged to attempt to float a paper clip in a cup of water. A few were able to achieve this. Here a student explained how best to do it, as well as how the liquid is able to keep the paper clip afloat.

Oil and water

Oil and water were put in a clear glass and food coloring was added. After this, an Alka-Seltzer tablet was placed in it. In the water, the tablet reacted to produce carbon dioxide gas. Bubbles of carbon dioxide gas carried droplets of water upward through the oil, producing an effect like a lava lamp. Children were urged to take home a small test tube with the mix with their parents’ permission. A version of this activity is online at Lava Lamp.

Soft and hard water

The procedure was to mix water with magnesium sulfate in a water bottle, leave another water bottle full of water intact, and then add dishwashing soap to both. The participants were asked if, after shaking the bottles vigorously, they knew which water was the hard water. Many noticed how the softer water had much more bubbles than the hard one.

The conservation of planet Earth should be one of the most important things on our agenda these days, as each day pollution worsens the situation for everyone. We all have to remember that our one little drop of water can make an enormous difference in a sea of people, and we can all contribute to a better world, one way or another.

High School Day at the ACS SF National Meeting

Chemistry & Global Stewardship
the-golden-gate-in-san-francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge–A San Francisco Icon

It has been nearly 50 years since the ‘Summer of Love’ in San Francisco, and this summer you will find a great deal more to love at the 248th ACS National Meeting & Exposition, August 10-14.  A highlight of the meeting for chemical educators occurs on Sunday, August 10th with the presentation of High School Day.

The American Chemical Society hosts a special High School Chemistry Day program for teachers as part of the program as each National Meeting. Presentations explore new methods of teaching, classroom tools, resources, activities on a range of topics. A special High School/College Interface Luncheon allows an opportunity to exchange ideas and network.

 

Ideas for Your Classroom-and Beyond

The theme of this meeting is Chemistry & Global Stewardship so it it appropriate that Mary Kirchoff, Director of ACS Education should lead off the day of activities with an explanation global stewardship and how chemistry is a part of the process.Moscone

Green Chemistry is featured in most of the sessions that run from 8am to 4pm at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco.

Other sessions cover ‘greener’ activities from the Journal of Chemical Education, an exploration of bioplastics, and a calorimetry lab using chemical hot packs.

View all the abstracts for High School Day.

More than 15,000 scientists are expected to attend, and over 11,000 presentations are slated, comprised of symposia that highlight a broad range of scientific advancement.

NM pics

Professional Documentation

Attendees can track professional development (based on clock hours) for sessions attended at the ACS national meeting. On completion and submission of ACS forms, participants will be mailed a certificate documenting their participation in the conference.

If your summer plans allow you to travel to San Francisco, plan on attending the ACS National Meeting and High School Day, you’ll be sure to find something you love!