Submitted by Joe Smith
The 2022-2023 season of the “Chemistry is pHun” outreach program sponsored by the St. Louis Section of the American Chemical Society was wrapped up in March. Thanks to facilitation by Partners in Education in the Rockwood School District, a non-profit that does the substantial work of interfacing with schools on schedules and room reservations, we were able to complete 19 separate school visits and give 37 presentations attended by a total of 1251 2nd- and 5th-grade students.
Presentations to both grades began by discussing the diversity of career activities carried out by STEM professionals, including chemists. Safety was emphasized by having all presentation participants wear eye protection and urging students to get grown-up assistance before experimenting at home.
Second graders attend a presentation entitled “Observing States of Matter” that focuses on matter in the states of solids, liquids, gases, and plasmas and the role of energy transfer and chemical reaction in causing state changes. Demonstrations with hand warmers and the “collapsing can experiment” illustrate heat energy’s role in state changes. The presentation concluded with a hands-on demonstration where each student transformed liquids into a solid by reacting Elmer’s glue with borax solution.
Fifth graders experience a “Transforming Matter” presentation that introduces the concept of chemical reactions as transformations of reactants into products. A combustion reaction demonstration illustrates how reactants can turn into products accompanied by a release of energy. Discussing acid-base reactions, demonstrated with the help of red cabbage juice indicator, leads to exploring the acidity of fluids encountered in daily life. A discussion of the pH scale ties in well with math class, where students are learning about exponents. Methods of controlling chemical reactions, such as removing a reactant or reducing temperature, are discussed in the context of extinguishing fires and the use of refrigeration to slow down food spoilage. This presentation also concluded with a hands-on demonstration where each student transforms liquids into a solid by reacting Elmer’s glue with borax solution.
Giving these presentations is a gratifying activity for Chemistry is pHun coordinator Joe Smith. Students ask a wide variety of questions, ranging from the routine (“Is something going to explode?” or “How many years did you go to school?”) to the profound, such as “How do you invent things?” and “How does matter form?”. Giving these presentations is an opportunity for retired professionals to introduce the idea of a STEM career to students in their formative years. If you are interested in participating in future programs, contact Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org.