Crime Chemistry

This year’s National Chemistry Week (NCW) crime-based theme of “Solving Mysteries Through Chemistry” captured everyone’s interest! Our ChemClub is part of Prince of Peace, a K through 12 Catholic school on the Mississippi River, in Clinton, Iowa. With all grades located in the same building, the elementary students were able to come to the science lab for NCW. It was a chance for them to wear goggles and be crime detectives. They did tests with fiber, fingerprints, and blood. My students discovered that they like teaching!





Ottawa Township High School ChemClub National Chemistry Week Activities

This popular toy was accidentally discovered by engineer James Wright while working at General Electric during World War II. He was trying to find a substitute for natural rubber that was in short supply. Interestingly the patent for this item is still in dispute. What is the name of this toy?

A. Slime
B. Silly Putty
C. Play Doh
D. Flubber

The question above (the answer is B, by the way) was one of those asked during a trivia contest on a local radio station twice a day every day from Monday, October 21, through Friday, October 25, to celebrate National Chemistry Week (NCW). Members of the Ottawa Township High School (OTHS) ChemClub wrote 12 multiple-choice trivia questions, and the morning show host, Jay LeSeure, picked which ones he would use each day. The contest was so popular that the station lifted their policy of only winning once every 30 days because there were so many callers each day. Contest prizes were copies of the ChemClub calendar, which has the OTHS club pictured on the cover, along with pictures from our outreach programs shown on the May and July pages; the current issue of ChemMatters; and a gift certificate for a local restaurant. A big thank you to Marta Gmurczyk at ACS for supplying the calendars and ChemMatters and Rick Koshko, the news director at WCMY 1430 AM.


We did an additional activity during NCW, on Mole Day. For our ChemClub meeting, two members made a periodic table of cupcakes 118 mini cupcakes, each decorated with the symbol of an element. They organized them into the periodic table before we safely consumed them. Please don’t try that with real elements! I even ate the plutonium myself, even though I was warned it smelled funny (Pu). In addition, we had molasses cookies and guacamole.

We have had a very exciting start to the year and look forward to taking our show for elementary schools on the road during second semester. Recently we also received the Ambassador of Chemistry award from the ACS Office of Public Affairs for bringing chemistry to the public.

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!