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.




TONS of FUN in Seminole High School Chem Club!

This has been a very exciting year so far for the Seminole High School Chemistry Club in Seminole, Florida. This is the third year of our school having an ACS ChemClub and we have performed very fun and interesting experiments this year. During our first meeting, we made boats out of cardboard and put a in soap solution to propel the boat forward. Continue reading “TONS of FUN in Seminole High School Chem Club!”

Bravo HS ChemClub Wins Big at Southern California Chem Bowl

The Southern California ACS local section launched its inaugural Chem Bowl this year for local college students who are ACS affiliate members. The event was hosted at Pasadena City College on April 12, 2014. Coming up short one team of their goal they offered to let the ChemClub at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School bring a team of current students and alumni to compete.

The Team


The ‘Hybrid’ team consisted of Bravo students C. Lim (team captain), K. Tat, and W. Fong, all rising seniors and two alumni members, A. Situ and Z. Markos, who are currently enrolled at UCLA. Both Situ and Markos had previously been semifinalists in the U.S. National Chemistry Olympiad. The team was coached by long time Bravo Science Teacher and ChemClub Sponsor Michael Morgan.


The Competition in the Lab

lab team
The ChemClub team works on a titration.

The competition started with a titration challenge. The team was tasked with determining the concentration of a weak acid with previously standardized NaOH. Proctors observed their technique and evaluated each team.

Teams then were challenged to build a voltaic cell from a collection of metals and judged on which one produced the highest potential.

The third challenge of the day was a “Chemical Obstacle Course” where students determined the intermediates in a multi-step organic synthesis and then had to run through a maze and bounce house to retrieve cards showing the compounds and deliver them via a pulley system over a water obstacle.

The final challenge involved interpreting both NMR and IR chemical spectra of organic compounds.

Chemistry Jeopardy Playoff Rounds

The three highest placing teams spent the afternoon in a fast-paced buzzer competition based on National Science Bowl and Ocean Bowl rules. Bravo finished the morning second overall behind the team from UCLA. In the buzzer competition Bravo took a commanding lead over their first challenger Cal Lutheran from Thousand Oaks, CA whose team included one of their former classmates. In the final round they faced the team from UCLA, which included several current classmates of both Markos and Situ.

The Awards

The perpetual trophy goes home with our team.
The perpetual trophy went home with our team!

Bravo finished the day with a commanding lead over UCLA and First Place overall. They were awarded a “Perpetual Trophy” (a 6 L Erlenmeyer Flask mounted on a wooden base) that they will hold for one year and their names will appear on the trophy for future generations to see.

When asked about his students competing against college students Coach Michael Morgan responded: “What did we have to lose? If we came in last, we lost to a room full of college kids. If we won anything, we beat a room full of college kids.”

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?