Glorietta Elementary School (Orinda, CA) Science Fair – March 4th, 2020

Before CoVID-19 shut down our outreach events, our intrepid volunteers were back at Glorietta Elementary School on March 4th, 2020 for another delightful evening of hands-on science exploration.  The Chevron Slime Team showed even the youngest chemists how to cross-link polyvinyl alcohol (combined with their favorite color, of course), and four volunteers from the Alpha Chi Sigma chemistry fraternity at UC Berkeley assisted me in presenting three hands-on activities: Chemistry Makes Scents, Plastic Recycling, and the Red Cabbage Rainbow.

“Chemistry Makes Scents” compares the aromas and chemical structures of two mirror image molecules, D-carvone and L-carvone (with caraway and spearmint flavors, respectively).  This activity is part of the NISEnet “Let’s Do Chemistry” kit which they provided free to organizations engaged in school outreach activities.  We have incorporated it into the molecular model building activity that Greti Séquin created years ago for our Section.  Kids love to build models, whether they are as simple as water or acetic acid, or as complex as sugar.

Plastic recycling is another old favorite that has never been more relevant.  Plastic packaging is numbered 1 – 6, and these materials can be distinguished by their density and other properties.  Can they really be recycled?  We exhibited sample products made from recycled plastic, but there’s a long ways to go.  The Earth Week 2020 edition of Celebrating Chemistry focuses on bio-based and compostable plastics, and visitors took copies so they can investigate these topics at home.  You can, too:

Red cabbage juice is a great pH indicator, providing a rainbow of colors from bright red in acid to brilliant blue or green with base.  When adding Milk of Magnesia gradually neutralizes added acids (vinegar or dry ice) and the results are spectacular.  Kids could also blow into small samples of dilute cabbage juice, and their breath contains enough carbon dioxide to convert the blue-purple solution to pink.

Rainbow chemistry with red cabbage pH indicator

With at least one hundred student exhibits and several activity stations organized by the Glorietta faculty, this science fair was not-to-be missed.  Let’s hope it will be back next year, along with the rest of our outreach events.

Alex Madonik – National Chemistry Week Coordinator