Celebrating Planet Earth


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.

Testing the Waters

One big environmental problem that seems a little distant from the Prince of Peace ChemClub in Clinton, Iowa, is a large “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, near New Orleans. The American Chemical Society (ACS) Illinois–Iowa Local Section gave a $100 grant to purchase testing materials to test creek and storm-drain water samples from the Clinton watershed for nitrates and phosphates. We wanted to know if Clinton is contributing nitrates and phosphates to the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone.”

Water samples for testing.
An assortment of water samples and recycled containers.

Why nitrates and phosphates?

In the coastal area where the dead zone is, high levels of nutritional nitrates and phosphates help algae over-grow. When the algae finally die, they settle and are decomposed by aerobic respiring bacteria. As a result, dissolved oxygen in the water gets used up, and there is not enough oxygen for fish—making it a dead zone.

Why Iowa?

Nitrates and phosphates get to the coast via the Mississippi River. Environmental Protection Agency testing has found that it’s the Upper Mississippi, above St. Louis, that contributes most of the nitrates and phosphates. These chemicals are routinely used to fertilize crops, especially nitrogen-greedy corn. Iowa.

Students tested the samples with LaMotte water-testing TesTabs. These tests use chemicals that change color: pink-orange for nitrates and blue for phosphates.
Students tested the samples with LaMotte water-testing TesTabs. These tests use chemicals that change color: pink-orange for nitrates and blue for phosphates.

What did we find?

The Prince of Peace ChemClub and all of the high school students collected water from creeks and run-off ditches all around Clinton to test on Earth Day. Nitrate was absent in drinking water, but detectable in waters running off into the river, ranging from 5 to 35 parts per million (ppm). All water samples, including drinking water, had 1 to 4 ppm phosphate. Test results showed that the Clinton area is adding nitrates and phosphates to the Mississippi River. Students used Google Earth to get the GPS coordinates of their water sample sites, so the data could be reported to the IOWATER online database. It was a great Earth Day, with some cool Chemistry.

The team of water testers.
The team of water testers.

Has your ChemClub tested local water? How do your results compare?

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!

Chemists Celebrate Earth Day – April 22, 2014

Help your ChemClub to be Earth Advocates!


Chemists Celebrate Earth Day (CCED) is an annual celebration that  brings a focus to environmental causes, such as clean air, water, and energy in the context of basic chemistry. The American Chemical Society (ACS) offers events, contests, and educational resources for members, chemical educators, and chemistry enthusiasts to illustrate the positive role that chemistry plays in preserving the Earth.   The CCED 2014 theme is the “Wonders of Water”, exploring the unique properties of water that are crucial for life and a cleaner environment.

There are a number of great resources available for your celebration of Earth Day.  This is a great opportunity to show how chemistry works in everyday life.  It is also a chance to demonstrate how central chemistry is in many environmental issues.  One great place to start is with the materials in the ChemClub 2013-2014 Resource Packet #3, which includes demonstrations, lab-based activities, and activities for outside the lab.  Each resource packet also includes a table categorizing these demos and activities according to common high school chemistry curriculum topics.  You will also see sample Club meeting guides and a copy of ChemMatters magazine, which features articles dealing with environmental issues.

At the CCED web site there are more resources of interest.

CCED Illustrated Poem ContestPoetry contest graphic

As part of CCED activities, the ACS is sponsoring an illustrated poem contest for students in Kindergarten – 12th grade. Tap into your creative side and submit a poem.  Entries will be judged based on relevance to and incorporation of the CCED theme (“The Wonders of Water”), word choice and imagery, colorful artwork, adherence to poem style, originality and creativity, and overall presentation. The poems can be in any of seven styles, from haiku to free verse and must be less than 40 words long.

Celebrating Chemistry

This publication is aimed at younger students and is perfect for any outreach your club might do with elementary school-age kids.  This year’s issue includes stories on how soaps work, why oil and water don’t mix and explores aquifers. Celebrating Chemistry is available in both English and Spanish versions.

CCED Education Resources

Find a number of helpful resources to aid your CCED activities.  Some of the resources include links to the Journal of Chemical Education, ACS CCED promotional products, web seminars, podcasts and much more.

CCED Community Events

Discover local events happening in your area that you may want to join.  It also has suggestions for organizing your own community event, if that is something you and your club would like to take on.

As you can see there are lots of resources for Chemists Celebrate Earth Day.  Now all that is left is for you to make a plan.  Do something grand, or something at a smaller scale, on Earth Day April 22, 2014.

Canoeing on Deep River



Earth Day Festival

ChemClub BraceletEscuela San Germán Interamericana, San Germán, PR, has been very busy this year.

One of their most recent projects was creating ChemClub bracelets with ribbon, tabs from soda cans, foam board, hot glue, and the ChemClub logo.

Escuela San Germán Interamericana StudentsThey handed these out at a chemistry festival to celebrate Earth Day.

Another recent project was creating a school fair to bring together all the different clubs in the school. Every club was able to promote their club to the rest of the student body, by a presentation, demonstration, or just answering questions at their table.