“You Be the Chemist” Invites Students to Investigate Science

A child stares wonderingly at rows of apple slices. Some are dark and discolored, completely unappetizing. Others are firm and look as if they were just cut. But they are assured that all of the apples were cut at the same time.

How is this possible?

It’s all about their chemical treatment. Some of the apple slices did not receive any treatment and were simply exposed to air. Others were soaked in baking soda or lemon juice.

As the students discuss which of the apple slices held up the best, they gradually see that science is more than a set of facts learned from a textbook. The tools it provides can help answer important questions that affect everyday life.

Across the room, students interact with scientists and engineers specializing in chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology, and other disciplines as they investigate surface tension, make a polymer, find how surface drainage affects wildlife, and learn how scientists can use paper to filter out even the tiniest of particles.

These and other elementary and middle school students are part of an event cosponsored by several local organizations and companies, as well as the You Be the Chemist program and the Howard County Science Fair. The goal of the event is to allow students to learn about science by doing experiments themselves and interacting with scientists.

The students may not yet understand the new word “polymer.” They may not remember exactly why oil and water are so different. However, there’s one thing they understand very clearly: science can explain things, and you’re never too young to start investigating it.

Professors from Indiana University Kokomo, including Dr. Marcia Gillette, Dr. Hisako Masuda, Dr. Ashley Duffitt, Dr. Christian Chauret, and Dr. Peter Tupa participated, as well as Sarah Brichford and Greg Lake from the Howard County Stormwater District, and Dr. David and Ann Ihms from Criterion Water Labs. Emily Bargerhuff from Haynes International and Dr. Marcia Gillette from Indiana University Kokomo also volunteered with the library’s scavenger hunt and invited students to participate in the upcoming science fair.

You Be the Chemist is a program that invites K-8 students to explore science conceptually and experimentally. In addition to providing resources for parents and other educators to do hands-on science experiments with students, students in grades 5-8 can also take part in an annual competition called “You Be the Chemist.” This competition challenges students to not only learn chemistry facts, but also be able to apply what they know. It will be held at IUK on March 7th.

Another opportunity that allows students to direct their scientific curiosity in new ways and at their own pace is the Howard County Science Fair. The fair is open to all Howard County students in grades 5-12. Students choose a project, do original research, and then present their findings at the fair, which will be held on Saturday, February 14, 2015.

To learn more about You Be the Chemist or the Howard County Science Fair, contact Dr. Marcia Gillette at (765) 455-9369 or mgillett@iuk.edu, or contact Ann Ihms at (765) 438-1228 or water@criterionwaterlabs.com.