Chemistry is F9 U92 N7!

Chemistry is F9 U92 N7!

People often talk about “chemicals” in our food, water, or hygiene products in reference to possibly toxic or carcinogenic ingredients. Some chemicals certainly are dangerous to humans, but EVERYTHING is made up of chemicals! But what is the exact definition of a chemical, anyway? The Merriam-Webster definition of “chemical,” reads A substance obtained by a chemical process or producing a chemical effect. And chemistry is the study of how chemicals interact and react with one another.

Here Hank Green gives us a “crash course” in chemistry with a series of fast-paced, educational videos:

Cooking is often used as an example of an everyday activity which involves chemistry. When you apply heat to a piece of steak in a pan, water content leaves the muscle fibers. This is why the fillet is smaller after it has been cooked. Think about some other interesting reactions which occur in the kitchen. Why does corn pop? Another way to ask this question would be, why don’t other grains pop? Corn contains water, which turns to steam, creating pressure inside the hard outer shell and eventually exploding.

What do these reactions look like close up? The website, www.beautifulchemistry.net has amazing videos of reactions, like this one:  Read the rest of this entry »

5 Ways to Explore Science with the Summer Sun

Hands-On Sun Science

Summer gives sunshine – so use it for science! Utilizing summer sun can mean making the most of the long days, but the endless rays offered this time of year lend themselves to sunshine-based science projects. Whether studying they physical characteristics of the sun, like it’s core, solar flares or sunspots, orthe relationship between light and heat, examining evaporation, or exploring UV radiation, sun-based science is best when conducted during the sun’s brightest, warmest, and strongest time of year!

ABOUT THE SUN

Take your new found appreciation for our sun and conduct experiments at home that lead towards learning about science through the lens of the summer sun:  Read the rest of this entry »

Budding Chemists Celebrate Earth Day through Art & Poetry

Ecology Themed Illustrated Poetry Contest Accepting Submissions

From the yeast and sugar used to rise a loaf of fresh homemade bread, to the microbial life that multiplies around your tea kettle or takes hold of your family during flu season, we have many ecosystems within our own homes (and our own bodies!).

When you think of the word “ecosystem,” does your mind automatically travel outdoors, imagining a nature scene with lots visible life? Sometimes humans forget that our own habitats, our man-made houses, also contain ecosystems of life forms besides ourselves. Drinking unfiltered water contains microbial life. Bacteria thrive in hot water areas such as a tea kettle. In fact, although they don’t pay rent and in fact you can’t even see them. You have several billion microscopic housemates!

There’s no need to overthink these facts or jump to worrisome conclusions. Bacteria is not always harmful and in fact, some of these microscopic beings play helpful roles in our lives. Even though humans have built complex systems of shelter and storage, we are natural beings and we live in a biological world. Your kitchen sink, your computer screen, your bedroom doorknob- each one could potentially be analyzed as an ecosystem.

This year, in honor of Earth Day, the American Chemical Society is challenging young people to rethink their homes as ecosystems, and use this as inspiration for artwork and poetry. What does science have to do with poetry and artwork? A lot, actually. Poets, artists and scientists are all highly inquisitive observers, seeking to make sense of the world around them, whether they do it with words, images, experiments, or some combination of the three. Read the rest of this entry »

Science Meets Poetry: Chemists Celebrate Earth Day Illustrated Poem Contest

Science Meets Poetry with Wonders of Water Illustrated Poem Contest

Chemists Celebrate Earth Day Illustrated Poem Contest. Entries to the contest are due by April 14th, 2014.

Beloved children’s poet Shel Silverstein once wrote, “… let it rain on my skin, it can’t get in – I’m waterproof!” These words – from the poem “Dancin’ In the Rain” – are silly yet somehow scientific, and encourage us to think about what happens when our skin gets wet. There are an infinite number of other water-related thoughts that kids might have, and thanks to an upcoming poetry contest, big thinkers will have a place to share writing that they’ve done about water-related phenomena.

The 2014 American Chemical Society’s Chemists Celebrate Earth Day Illustrated Poem Contest invites students in grades K-12 to write and illustrate poems about water. The official theme, “Wonders of Water,” encourages students of all ages to ponder the role that water plays in their daily lives, in the natural world around them, and in the chemical and physical properties of everything on earth. With a maximum length of 40 words, poems should be concise yet also creative and original – even with a small number of words, students will find plenty of space to make their voice come through. Read the rest of this entry »

Snow Studies: Crystals & Frost

Snow Studies: Crystals & Frost

With chilly temperatures and icicles, we’re having the perfect winter for some great snow studies this year! The white coating that covers our landscape here in New England not only offers opportunities for winter sports, but it is also a great creative medium that can support science studies too!  The chemistry behind snowflakes and frost are just waiting to be discovered!

CRYSTALS

Kids can use snow, ice, and frost to learn about crystals – a concept that they’ll eventually encounter when they study chemistry, but will understand much better if they have some firsthand experience with them. Snowflakes are a beautiful form of crystals, each one showing off a microscopic symmetrical design of spears, points, indents, and cutouts. Be sure to read the book Snowflake Bentley (by the talented Mary Azarian), a true story about the Vermont man whose curiosity about snowflakes lead him to be the first to photograph them! It would be pretty tricky to make snowflakes at home, but with a magnifying glass and a small square of black fabric, you can take a semi-close look at them when you venture outside. See if you can identify a difference between the shape and size of snow flakes and the snowy clumps that fall during each snowstorm we get… Read the rest of this entry »

Passport to Chemistry Adventure for Kids at Mt. Holyoke College, 2013

Passport to Chemistry Adventure at Mt. Holyoke College

[Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield]

Experiment with science at home, and work towards a chance to participate in a special chemistry adventure day at Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA.

Families can sign out chemistry kits from their local library and do experiments at home. Participating libraries include: South Hadley Public Library; Wilbraham Public LibraryEmily Williston Memorial Library (Easthampton);  Edwards Library (Southampton); and Mount Holyoke College Library (South Hadley).

There are kits available for K-2nd & 3rd-6th grades. Participating library patrons get a stamp on their “chemistry passport” for each kit they complete, and after accumulating five, they can apply to be part of a special chemistry event!

On Saturday, June 1st from 2-4pm, the college is hosting 2013 Passport to Chemistry Adventure – and the theme is energy! To apply, kids must submit a Chemistry Visa application by May 15th, using their chemistry passport stamps as proof that they are armed with enough chemistry knowledge to participate!

After applying, families will find out what time their activity will take place. Kids participating will get to take part in a fun, investigative activity that allows them to learn basic principles of chemistry. To sign up, visit www.mtholyoke.edu.

Passport to Chemistry Adventure for Kids at Mt. Holyoke College, 2012

Passport to Chemistry Adventure

Recipe for Homemade Baking Powder

Recipe for Homemade Baking Powder

Experiment with science at home, and work towards a chance to participate in a special chemistry adventure day at Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA.

Families can sign out chemistry kits from their local library and do experiments at home. Participating libraries include: South Hadley Public Library, M. N. Spear Memorial Library (Shutesbury), Wilbraham Public Library and Emily Williston Memorial Library (Easthampton). There are kits available for K-2nd & 3rd-6th grades. Participating library patrons get a stamp on their “chemistry passport” for each kit they complete, and after accumulating five, they can apply to be part of a special chemistry event!

On Saturday, June 9th, the college is hosting 2012 Passport to Chemistry Adventure – and the theme is food and chemistry! To apply, kids must submit a Chemistry Visa application by May 15th, using their chemistry passport stamps as proof that they are armed with enough chemistry knowledge to participate!

After applying, families will find out what time their activity will take place. Kids participating will get to take part in a fun, investigative activity that allows them to learn basic principles of chemistry while using something they’re familiar with (local food!) as learning materials. To sign up, visit www.mtholyoke.edu.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Susy Morris]

The Science of Making Butter

MAKING BUTTER
by Robert Krampf

My Grandmother is going to have her 103rd birthday this month. I have been thinking about how much the world has changed during her life. Imagine only having fruits and vegetables when they were in season. Imagine no computers, no television, no air conditioning, no refrigerators. This time we are going to step back in time a bit, and make our own butter.

To try this delicious treat, you will need

  • a small container of heavy whipping cream
  • a glass jar with a tight fitting lid

If you have never made butter, these instructions may sound strange, but trust me, it works wonderfully. The first thing to do is to let the cream sit on the counter, at room temperature, for about 12 hours. I put it out on the counter after supper, and I had freshly made butter on my toast the next morning.

After letting the cream sit, pour it into the glass jar. Don’t worry if it has a slightly sour smell. Put the lid on the jar. Now we have to shake the jar, but we don’t want to just start shaking it wildly. We want to watch what is happening. Give it one good hard shake about once every second. Watch carefully. For the first few minutes, not much will happen. Then suddenly, you will feel something solid hit the jar when you shake it. Look inside and you will see a large lump of butter. Give it a few more hard jolts and your butter should be ready.

Open the jar and look carefully. Around the butter is a thin, white liquid, which is commonly known as buttermilk. If you have ever had buttermilk biscuits, this is what they are made with. Pour off the buttermilk and add some cold water to the jar. Swirl it around a bit and then pour it off. Repeat this a few times, until the water remains clear. Drain all the water and put the lump of butter into a small bowl.

At this point, you have sweet cream butter, which is wonderful on hot bread or fresh biscuits. If you prefer salted butter, simply sprinkle some salt into the butter and stir it in. At this point, treat the butter just as you would the butter you get from the store.

That was quite yummy, but how and why did it work? First, we have to know a bit about milk. If you have ever been lucky enough to have milk fresh from the cow, you know that if you let it sit for a while, the cream floats to the top. That is because milk contains lots of tiny globules of milk fat, each surrounded by a thin membrane. Imagine tiny balloons filled with butter instead of air. Because the milk fat (butter) is lighter than the liquid, they tend to float. The cream that rises to the top is really a very high concentration of these fat globules floating on the milk. The milk from the grocery does not do this because it has been homogenized, a process that makes the fat globules small enough to keep them mixed evenly in the milk.

We left the cream out of the refrigerator overnight for two reasons. First, it helps the fat in the globules to form crystals. These crystals will help to break the membrane when we shake the cream. Imagine a water balloon with shards of glass inside. One jolt would cause the glass to slice through the balloon. That is what we want to happen.

Letting the cream sit at room temperature does something else. It allows lactic acid bacteria to grow. We think of bacteria as a bad thing, but many of them are quite useful. These bacteria make the cream more acidic, which prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. They also produce chemicals that give the butter a stronger and richer flavor.

When you shake the cream, some of the globules slam into the glass and break open. Soon, the cream is filled with tiny globs of butter. As these tiny bits of butter bump into each other, they stick together. The lumps of butter get larger and larger, as more and more globules are ripped open. Very quickly, you have one large lump of butter and a small amount of liquid buttermilk. I was amazed at how little liquid was left once the butter formed.

You will probably notice that the color of your butter is more pale that the stuff you buy at the store. Some manufacturers add yellow color, but a lot depends on what the cows are eating. Cows that eat grass get lots of a chemical called carotene, which adds a yellow color to the butter.

Of course, the true test of your butter is a fresh, hot biscuit, or some crusty French bread, or some nice pancakes, or some…. well, you get the idea.


Reprinted with permission. © 2008. Robert Krampf’s Science Education

Video: The Chemistry of Candles

Web Review: Fireworks, Chemical of the Week

Chemical of the Week: Fireworks


This explanation of the chemistry of fireworks discusses the compounds that produce specific colors of fireworks, the production and ignition of fireworks, the reactions (oxidations and reductions) that cause the explosions, fireworks safety, and the origins of gunpowder. From a chemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Click here to review the site. [(c) LII]

An excellent site for students of home studies.

The Science of Blowing Milk Bubbles

Milk Bubbles
by Robert Krampf

This week’s experiment explores a popular childhood activity, blowing bubbles in your milk. It is a great way to learn about surface tension, milk chemistry, and have fun doing things that your Mother told you not to.

To try this, you will need:

  • a glass of milk that is half full (or half empty, depending on your personal outlook)
  • a glass of water that is half full
  • a soda straw

The start is easy. Put the straw in the glass of milk. If the glass is more than half full, use the straw to drink the excess. Then blow gently through the straw, making bubbles in the milk. Continue doing this until you fill the glass with bubbles, or until your mother tells you to stop playing with your food and get ready for school. (Oops. Sorry. Childhood flashback.)

It was pretty easy to fill the glass with milk bubbles. Next, try the same thing with the glass of water. This is not nearly as easy. The bubbles pop very quickly, making it difficult to fill the glass with bubbles without blowing so hard that you make a mess.

Why the difference? Water molecules are very sticky, attracting each other very strongly. At the boundary between water and air, they make up for the lack of attraction above the surface by pulling even stronger to the sides. This forms a skin-like surface tension on the water. That surface tension is what pulls water into beads on a freshly washed car.

A bubble is made up of a thin film of water. With pure water, the pull of the surface tension make the water film so thin that it pops almost instantly. For the bubble to last longer, you need some way to reduce the surface tension.

Milk contains proteins. These proteins are long, string-like molecules that form a network in the bubble reducing its surface tension. Less surface tension lets the bubbles last longer, making it easier to fill the glass.

The amount of milk fat can also have a big impact on this. Liquid milk fat forms films in the bubble more easily than the milk protein, but since the fat does not mix with water, it does not reduce the surface tension. That makes weaker bubbles, so low fat milk tends to make better bubbles than whole milk.

Temperature also has an impact. With a glass of cold milk, the bubbles were large and lasted quite a while. As the milk warmed up to room temperature, the bubbles were smaller and popped quickly. This means that you should blow your milk bubbles early in the meal, instead of waiting to have bubbles with your desert


Reprinted with permission. © 2008. Robert Krampf’s Science Education

%d bloggers like this: