Chemistry Week: MSU students showcase chemical reactions

By Leah Barbour/Mississippi State University

STARKVILLE – National Chemistry Week offered Mississippi State University chemistry students an opportunity to share their interest in chemistry with anyone who was willing to stop to watch a chemical reaction.
The MSU Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society observed the week, celebrated annually each fall, with a series of activities. It included a bake sale and “Molecule Toss” bingo and culminated in chemical demonstrations in front of Colvard Student Union, a major campus hub.
According to the president of SAACS, Kerry Barnett of Cordova, Tenn., it’s all about generating interest in chemistry and showing people that chemistry is relevant in their day-to-day lives.
“A lot of people don’t realize you can do so many things with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. You can go to medical school, vet school, dentistry, pharmacy or government – it’s a very rigorous subject,” she said.
Not only did the chemical demonstrations attract numerous students to the SAACS display, but they also fostered myriad questions about what was going on and how it was happening.
From freezing marshmallows in liquid nitrogen and shattering them into thousands of pieces to adding active yeast to hydrogen peroxide and watching “elephant toothpaste” foam out of a test tube, SAACS students showed off their knowledge and how combining chemicals safely can be lots of fun.
“The demonstrations show students that everything we do involves chemistry,” said Emily Rowland, SAACS advisor and chemistry instructor. “Even if the students don’t want to major in a science field, most majors do require at least one year of college chemistry. Our demonstrations make learning chemistry more fun, and hopefully the students will think back to the demos when they learn the material.”
Chemistry applies to almost everything people use, Rowland observed. From the dyes in clothes to life-saving medicines, chemistry allows manufacturers to develop merchandise without destroying natural resources. By making compounds in a laboratory, chemists can make enough products for millions of people.
While many chemistry majors at MSU will continue their education in professional programs such as medical, dental or pharmacy schools, many others will become teachers, using their degrees to educate the next generations of learners, Barnett said.
SAACS students offer many of the same kinds of chemical demonstrations at local elementary, middle and high schools, she noted. Even as the MSU chemistry students see how they are positively impacting the young people, those students are learning that chemistry applies to their lives, too.
“Chemicals and equipment are expensive, and some schools don’t have either,” Rowland said. “When we do demos for them, we are showing them things that they may never have had the chance to do or see at their school. It is also a way for the younger kids to see what college students do, and it motivates them to stay in school and go to college.
“Every time we go to a school, we have students asking us if they can do demos when they go to college.”

Read more education news at Chris Kieffer’s blog, Education Matters

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