Tanque Verde ChemClub Celebrates Earth Day

Science is amazing!
Science is amazing!

ChemClub members at Tanque Verde High School (TVHS) in Tucson, AZ, recently participated in the 2014 Tucson Earth Day Festival. The festival is an annual event full of opportunities to showcase local science and environmental programs. We joined forces with our Southern Arizona ACS Local Section to prepare hands-on activities and displays for the public to highlight Chemists Celebrate Earth Day (CCED).

TVHS students brought several demonstrations related to the current CCED theme, “Wonders of Water,” to share. Groups of TVHS students rotated through the day to teach visitors about different properties of water. Our hands-on activities explored the cohesive and adhesive properties of water, changes in surface tension, and conductivity of water. We also collaborated to prepare a water filtration demo to display at the ACS booth. The greatest challenge for this outreach activity was the outdoor location—since the festival takes place in the park, we needed to battle the elements—sun and wind!

For many of our visitors it was a chance to become a scientist for a day, wear goggles, use pipets and a conductivity meter, perhaps for the first time ever!

Testing conductivity of different samples of water
Testing conductivity of different samples of water
Making plastic boats propelled by differences in surface tension
Making plastic boats propelled by differences in surface tension
Adding "fuel" = rubbing alcohol solution
Adding “fuel” = rubbing alcohol solution. Try it yourself!

Chemistry Contests at Enrico Fermi High School

Two students from the Enrico Fermi High School ChemClub in Enfield, Connecticut, recently stepped up to organize several contests for our Club. They took care of the organizing, and it has worked out great. The best three were:

  • A contest to see who could launch a hydrogen–oxygen disposable pipet bulb rocket the furthest. Directions to make these rockets are online, such as “Micro-Rocket Challenge.”
  • A contest for making the best smoke bomb (small scale of course). You can make your own with directions online.
  • The last one was making rainbows preparing extracts from fruits and vegetables, then adding acids and bases. The photo shows the winning rainbow. The activity was based on the April 2013 article “Plant Pigment Identification: A Classroom and Outreach Activity” by Garber, Odendaal, & Carlson in the Journal of Chemical Education. The activity uses items from the grocery store like red cabbage, radishes, cranberries, concord grape juice, and blackberries.

test tubes with filled with various colored liquids

Chemistry, What Does It Matter?


The Children Have Experience with Chemistry (CHEC) ChemClub met for the third time on January 18 since its charter in September 2013. The group is made up of seven- to eleven-year-old students from six public and private schools located in Prince George’s and Charles Counties in Maryland. The name describes the focus of the club, for children to have experience with chemistry. The group was started by two parents who wanted a local STEM-type (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) club for their children. The club has expanded as students invite friends and additional parents get involved.

The group meets on the third or fourth Saturday of the month in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. The first meeting topic was “Chemistry, What Does It Matter?” The student scientists ended the meeting by saying, “It Matters Everything Because Chemistry Is Matter.” During this meeting they also acted out the states of matter. The second meeting topic was “Exploring the Scientific Method.” If you imagine the curve on a question mark being a road, getting an answer or final statement is the period under the question mark. January’s meeting topic was an introduction to the periodic table.

We look forward to the years ahead with this group. We are interested in field trips to other ChemClub meetings and presentations from other area groups.

Holiday Chemistry—Pin It!


I’m a recent convert to Pinterest. It allows you to create your own virtual bulletin boards and fill them by “pinning” images that then link back to the websites you wish to remember. It’s a way to collect web content you like, with the visual pop of the images to help you remember what you pinned. I’m slowly populating my boards with pins, but often I’m more interested in using the site to see what other people have pinned. In particular, I’m curious to see the pins that connect to chemistry. Something that’s cropped up lately with the holidays fast approaching are pins to borax crystal ornaments.

What’s the chemistry? You make a supersaturated solution with boiling water and borax powder, then suspend a shape you’ve twisted out of pipe cleaners in the solution. The bristles of the pipe cleaners offer lots of places for the borax to crystallize as the solution cools and can no longer hold as much of the borax in solution.

After a quick stop at the Dollar Store for pipe cleaners (decided on sparkly gold), I grabbed my box of 20 Mule Team Borax from the laundry room, and got started. Snowflake shapes are highly popular on Pinterest, so I started there. Here’s a summary:

  1. Cut a 12-inch pipe cleaner into three equal pieces.
  2. Use one piece as the center. Twist a second piece around the first to form the “arms” of the snowflake. Repeat with a third piece, for six symmetrical arms.
  3. Tie a string to the tip of one of the arms.
  4. Take a wide-mouthed glass jar or beaker. Suspend the snowflake in the chosen container so it does not touch the bottom of the container by tying or taping the other end of the string to a pencil that rests across the mouth of the container. Temporarily remove the pencil and snowflake from the container.
  5. Prepare a supersaturated borax solution—Boil tap water, then measure it by cups into the container. For each cup of water in the container, add 3 tablespoons of borax powder. Stir well. Borax powder may remain at the bottom of the container.
  6. Place the snowflake in the container again, with the pencil resting across the top of the container.
  7. Move the container to a place where it can remain undisturbed overnight. (Check out a close-up of the gorgeous results up top!)
Placing the snowflake into the supersaturated borax solution.
Placing the snowflake into the supersaturated borax solution.
After sitting overnight, a beautiful collection of crystals.
After sitting overnight, a beautiful collection of crystals.

A quick search on Pinterest showed a huge variety of shapes to try—borax crystal rainbows made with colored pipe cleaners, monograms, beautifully-elaborate snowflake designs, hearts, the American flag, candy canes, shamrocks, a Halloween spider, an Easter egg, stars, icicles, and even crystallizing the borax onto feathers. I love the idea of adapting it to fit other holidays and uses.

Looking for other holiday chemistry resources? Visit the latest ACS ChemClub Activity of the Month “Holiday Chemistry” or follow ACS ChemClubs on Pinterest!

Do you integrate holidays into your Club and classroom? What are some of your favorite resources?


Working with Polymers – TVHS ChemClub Outreach Activities


On October 21, Tanque Verde High School ChemClub  visited twoTVHS_9 elementary schools in our school district.  We presented a series of hands-on science activities, related to the chemistry of polymers, to the 3rd graders (approximately 175 students).  In order to visit both schools in one day, we divided into seven teams of 3-4 people.  It took us several days to get ready for the event. We practiced the experiments we were going to perform with the students over the past two weeks, rehearsing what we were going to say, and preparing our materials.

Laden with boxes of supplies, goggles for the students, and bottles of distilled water, we have arrived at the elementary schools early Monday morning.  Some club members were nervous and apprehensive about the presentations,  but once we  started, everything went well.  After a short set-up and distribution of materials we have launched into the activities.


TVHS_5Our activity was based on the ACS kit “Jiggle-jells”.   The opening demonstration (an attention grabber) was very well received and got the kids interested in what was to come next. We added a demonstration on making “instant snow” (here in Arizona snow is special!) We also added a graphing component to the part where students made a small, dinosaur-shaped toy that expands in water. The elementary school students were thrilled by all of the activities and eager to do them.

The best part of the event was seeing kids’ faces while we were doing the labs. We saw kids  alternately awestruck or grossed out, or just dumbfounded by what they were observing.  Such as when they made slime and were able to play with it.   Our ChemClub students found it rewarding to teach the kids and see them responding to the instruction.   Knowing that some of the skills these students learned during our session will stay with them in the future was very satisfying.  It was great to see that we were role models in the students eyes, and that they looked up to us.

And of course, the kids made a number of memorable comments, all delivered with a huge grin:

  • “You guys are letting us do a bunch of fun experiments today!”
  • “I want to be a scientist now!”
  • “I thought science was supposed to be boring. This is fun!”

What has impressed us? Many kids had amazingly insightful ideas on TVHS_1how these polymers worked. One of the girls gave a detailed description of the dinosaur experiment,  showing off her knowledge of the topic.  It was also great to see  the 3rd grade teachers were just as interested in the experiments as their students, and asked additional questions about the polymers and how the experiments were prepared.

Our club learned how to plan an effective presentation and how to work with small kids. We found it was  hard to make sure  the students understood the instructions.   We found it takes a lot of patience to work with younger students.  Although some things could have been explained better, perhaps using different examples, over all, we felt we did a good job.  We hope that other high schools get a chance to participate in the event like this one, and we would love to do it again!  It was incredibly rewarding experience for all of us.  It is one thing to learn, but another thing to teach!