Sunday, April 10, 2011

Chemistry is fun, science is awesome!

I teach an integrated science class that covers physics and chemistry and this semester I tried a new chem lab that I thought was pretty successful.  Each semester I tend to forget how labs are set up or problems that we had the semester before, so this year I started taking pictures while we were doing the labs so I can remember the next time!  Here's a few fun pics from my chem lab last week.

Okay, so the only balloons at King Soopers had smiley faces on them.  I think it adds a nice touch.  This was Alka seltzer and water creating carbon dioxide.   

Ammonia + epsom salt solution = gel precipitate

Steel wool soaked in vinegar to remove outer layer rusts really quickly, using oxygen and sucking the balloon into the flask. 

I included this just to bring back chemistry nightmares for those of you who haven't seen it since high school.  Muahahaha!  My students will learn how to balance chemical equations next week, but they learned from this lab that mass is always conserved.  I say that they learned it with confidence that it was actually learned, which is not typical of all of my labs.  
This week my students will present to me a project they can do with their future elementary school students to promote science.  I usually get some really neat projects!  I did mine for them the other day and we made a battery out of six lemons, zinc coated nails, copper (old pennies will do), a tiny LED light, and some alligator clips.  It worked and it was so easy.  I'm excited to see what they come up with this year!

Science is awesome, and the more MY students think so, the more they'll inspire their future students to think so.    Not only do we need more scientists and engineers in the US, we need everyone, particularly journalists, to have a general appreciation and understanding of what we do.  Therefore, when science appears in the news in some form, it gets reported properly and the audience is capable of understanding it at a level beyond a headline. A few examples from today's news include ignorance about climate change among politicians and the general public as well as ignorance about nuclear energy safety and fear of the seemingly magical processes that takes place inside a reactor.

Think how easy it was to inspire young children to become scientists and engineers when we had an active space program and President Kennedy said, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."  Then you see these inspirational astronauts and the teams behind them actually going to the moon!  What sort of equivalent do we have in today's society?  Today, great scientists in my field have had their reputations dragged through the mud by politicians and the media.

So, I only can touch 100 students each semester and inspire a fascination about science, whether it be physics, chemistry, meteorology, or next fall, climate science.  (And no, I am not naive enough to believe that all of them leave my class inspired.)  How can I make a bigger impact?  How can I educate a public that doesn't care about education?  Help!


Becky said...

It's funny to look at things like chemistry equations and realize that while I once understood that, I now have almost no idea what it means. (I have the same problem with calculus, or even some advance algebra.) It's familiar and yet completely foreign. I actually have had a secret desire to take a math class for fun, but sadly the university I work at (and therefore have tuition remission at) offers little in the way of math/science courses, and I'm not interested in paying for a class. :P

As for inspiring interest in science--perhaps you could be the next Bill Nye? I'll be waiting for the YellowBunnies YouTube sensation!

YellowBunnies said...


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