How do you make water seemingly vanish? Take a cup, put a superabsorbent polymer in it, pour water into it, and turn the cup upside down. The water doesn’t flow out. It’s like magic.
Members of Hillsdale’s chapter of the American Chemical Society visited Gier Elementary School last month for its Family Science Night and performed an assortment of demonstrations and experiments for entertainment and educational purposes.
Students ranging from preschool age to 12 years old attended the event, along with their parents and siblings. Approximately 75 students attended the demonstrations in total, according to ACS treasurer junior Catherine Bodnar.
Hillsdale’s ACS chapter typically does demonstrations at local schools two or three times per semester upon request, according to ACS president senior Andrea Lee.
“They don’t normally get to experience these types of demonstrations on a regular basis,” Lee said. “It’s nice that we can bring these kinds of demonstrations where they don’t normally get them in school.”
At Gier, the demonstrations focused around two main components: polymers and optics, or light. Lee said the visual component of the optics demonstrations seemed most enjoyable to the students.
“One of the things the kids like is when we burn different chemicals, they produce different colors,” Lee said. “A potassium solution when you light it on fire will turn lavender-purple. When you put sodium in fire, it will turn red.”
The students also got to view different elements while wearing diffraction glasses, which reveals the unique frequencies and patterns of light emitted by each element.
ACS vice president senior Micah Heinz worked with the polymer experiments, which included making foam and slime.
“Like most children, they were interested in the spectacle and sensory experiences,” Heinz said. “They wanted to touch the slime. They had a lot of fun.”
Heinz said that while the kids enjoyed the hands-on aspect of the demonstrations, the reality behind the experiments is that polymers are everywhere around us. Heinz plans on studying polymers in a doctorate program soon, but working with students in their first years in school is what he said he enjoyed most about the experience.
“I have nine younger siblings, so I enjoy working with kids,” Heinz said. “That was the most fun part for me: I like seeing kids get excited about something they think is really cool.”
Since the kids are so young and just starting to learn basic scientific principles, Heinz said they don’t expect them to understand everything that’s going on, but showing the students what science can do might prompt them to adopt an interest in the more technical side of science down the road.
“Part of what we wanted was to get people interested in the science and chemistry itself,” Heinz said.
Hillsdale’s ACS chapter will likely visit another school later this semester to do similar demonstrations, Lee said.
“ACS’s overall mission is to show our passion for chemistry and give an introduction to these students about how science is cool and how chemistry can be fun,” Lee said. “We also want to give an enjoyable experience for these kids as well. It’s for entertaining, but also to introduce a possible interest.”