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‘Chemistry Rocks!’ event uses fun experiments to teach children about science

Halloween may be the star of October, but every year during the fourth week of the month, a lesser-known celebration gets its turn in the spotlight.

In 1987, the American Chemical Society organized National Chemistry Day, a community-based program designed to send positive messages about chemistry to the public, especially elementary and secondary school children. Two years later, the event expanded into a week-long celebration.

This year, National Chemistry Week is Sunday through Oct. 28. To kick off the 2017 celebration, which features the theme “Chemistry Rocks!,” Eastern Washington University’s chemistry and geology departments and the Inland Northwest American Chemical Society will host an event at the Spokane Public Library’s downtown branch on Saturday.

At the event, children will each get a mineral and, using a series of chemical and geological tests, will determine what the mineral is. Once they figure that out, they will build a molecular model, or lattice, of what that mineral looks like using marshmallows and toothpicks.

Children will also test the solubility of their minerals.

“Minerals and rocks can dissolve in water at different temperatures, so we’re going to do how well salt dissolves in water and then we’re going to have them make a chocolate drink based on what they figure out from that,” said Ashley Lamm, assistant professor of chemistry at Eastern Washington University. “They can put their lattice marshmallows in that if they want.”

Children will also learn about viscosity at the “Chemistry Rocks!” event. Lamm said a volcano in Hawaii is different from a volcano at Mount St. Helens or Yellowstone because the composition of the rock is different, which has to do with viscosity of the material.

To demonstrate this idea, Lamm will lead the group in a “trashcano” demonstration.

“It’s basically a water volcano, and we’ll talk about how water’s not very viscous, so it’s not very thick,” she said. “Something like molasses is really viscous, so it’s very slow moving whereas water is not very viscous. It pours easily so it shoots out everywhere and explodes.”

While supplies last, participants will also receive a T-shirt and a goodie bag of activities they can complete at home, but before they go, they will enjoy liquid nitrogen ice cream.

“That has nothing to do with geochemistry,” Lamm admitted. “It’s just awesome. I’ve done it probably a hundred times, and it’s delicious and it looks amazing.”

Lamm said children should experience something like the “Chemistry Rocks!” event because it plays into their natural curiosity and shows them that science is everywhere.

“Chemistry is literally everywhere, so the more you get to know about your environment, the better,” she said. “You get to learn a little bit and have fun with science.”


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