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College stu­dents perform chem­istry demon­stra­tions for local stu­dents. Andrea Lee | Courtesy

 

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.”