Carson Elementary Students Discover Chemistry

While the undergraduates are away, professors get a chance to play—in the labs that is.

On December 16, Chemistry faculty and graduate students in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences set up multiple experiments, involving everything from Kool-Aid to dry ice to the gelatinous mixture that forms when polyacrylate and water combine.

The activities may seem too basic for university-level chemistry courses, but the goal of these experiments runs much deeper.

students from Carson elementary visit the chemistry department

Assoc. Prof. Smithrud makes a volcano using dish soap, food coloring and dry ice.

The department was hosting 49 eighth-grade students from Carson Elementary in an effort to expose them to the many possibilities of higher education. It was conducted as part of the department’s third K-12 Outreach Program event, an all-morning affair set up in Rieveschl Hall to introduce students to the subject of chemistry through fun laboratory experiments.

The students split up into groups of four or five and migrated from one lab station to another until they covered all nine stations. After a pizza lunch where the kids had the opportunity to speak with graduate students about college and being a scientist, Chemistry Research Associate Rudy Thomas did a demonstration that involved big bangs and lots of colors.

students from Carson elementary visit the chemistry department

Jazmin Whicker (in brown) and Gabrielle Pasqualetti (in green) might see science in their futures.

“One of the reasons you become a college professor is because of teaching,” said David Smithrud, associate professor of chemistry. “It’s fun to watch kids at that age get interested in science. It’s great stuff.”

Smithrud, who dubbed himself as the "Dry Ice Volcano Man" because of his demonstrations with dry ice and surfactants in water, discussed the value of teaching science to younger generations—especially when our world becomes increasingly scientific.

Tim Owen, the Carson Elementary science teacher, held a similar sentiment.

“We look at this trip to UC as an opportunity,” he said. “As a Cincinnati Public School, Carson students get to pick what high school they want to attend. Maybe this will help push some of them to go to a more science-based school. They seem really engaged.”

None of the students who visited campus had any previous experience with chemistry and only a basic introduction to lab experiments.

“My favorite was the diaper experiment,” said Carson student Ashli Delvh, discussing the experiment involving polyacrylate, a chemical invented by P&G for diapers. “Other experiments we can only watch, but that one we got to do ourselves. It was fun.”

students from Carson elementary visit the chemistry department

Where's Al? Prof. Pinhas shows his spirit with a periodic tie of the elements.

Timothy Mingo, 14, agreed. “Chemistry is pretty fun,” he said. “I’m really starting to like it.”

Allan Pinhas, a professor of chemistry, organized the special outreach event. He explained that the day’s activities were made possible through the foresight of an anonymous female donor, who bequeathed a generous amount of money to the department for outreach efforts such as this one. The students were even able to take the safety goggles home they donned while working in the labs.

While chemistry was the main topic of the event, the department faculty and Carson teachers realized what positive effects could come from placing the students in a college atmosphere.

students from Carson elementary visit the chemistry department

Kendrea Curtis and Sierra Carr (in blue) look right at home in a lab.

“It’s great just being on a college campus,” Owen said. “The students may have concepts of what a university looks like, but maybe now they can visualize themselves being here. It’ll start to plant that seed of vision in their heads.”

Pinhas acknowledged that college might not be for everyone, but that it should be introduced as a possibility anyway. “We’re literally just down the road from most of these kids,” Pinhas said—referring to the proximity between the school and the university. “We could be just down the road in their futures, figuratively as well.”

students from Carson elementary visit the chemistry department

A letter from one of Taft Elementary's students.

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