In contrast, during our lecture the Scouts learn about the chemistry
of greenhouse gases and the use of phosphates in fertilizers in a
clear, easy-to-understand format.
The discussion of physical and chemical change continues in the
fire lab. The only merit badge aspect of the fire lab is the reaction
of an iron nail with copper (II) sulfate. As the iron nail becomes
plated with copper metal, the boys are able to observe firsthand
the chemical change occurring and the different forms of copper:
a blue copper (II) sulfate solution and a metallic copper plating.
From there the excitement builds, along with the exothermic
nature of the reactions. We show them how fireworks exploit the
emission spectrum of various compounds through colored flames,
“sacrifice” a gummy bear in a very exothermic redox reaction with
potassium chlorate, and conduct a colorful combustion reaction
in a five-gallon plastic water jug. The fire lab never fails to elicit
“oohs” and “ahhs” from Scouts and Scoutmasters alike.
The fun lab was added, um… for fun! The demonstrations in this
lab range from a glow-in-the-dark luminol solution, to a non-Newtonian fluid that can be formed into a ball, to making fake
snow. This lab is more hands-on than other labs, and the Scouts
are encouraged to engage in the chemistry — and in the fun. The
finale of the lab is the infamous elephant toothpaste experiment,
where the reaction of potassium iodide with hydrogen peroxide
releases voluminous oxygen gas, which forms bubbles in the
added dish soap, causing massive amounts of colored foam to
shoot out of the graduated cylinder.
Each of these labs has been carefully planned and practiced to
maximize safety, learning, and “wow factor.” Although we place
a graduate student or faculty supervisor in each lab, the undergraduates conduct the experiments, engage with the Scouts, and
explain the chemistry behind the demonstrations. The Scouts’
thoughtful and curious questions challenge the ACS undergraduates to interact with them on a level they can understand— and
get excited about.
Lunch and dessert
After the lab rotations are over, we provide the Scouts and Scoutmasters a pizza lunch, liquid nitrogen ice cream, and a “periodic
table of cupcakes.” Excited conversations about the day can be
overheard in all directions as the participants talk about all they
have encountered that day and continue to ask questions.
Interview a chemist
After the boys are carb-loaded, they go and sit in a room with a
panel of chemists to interview. This is a very open-ended activity.
The panelists introduce themselves and their careers, and then the
floor opens for questions. Naturally inquisitive and fueled by all
they have learned (and eaten) throughout the morning, the Scouts
always have more questions than we have time for interviews—
which is good!
And this is just a quick overview of an insanely fun, educational,
crazy, and rewarding day. During a time in the semester when students are bogged down with long hours of homework, midterms,
and lab reports, this day reminds them about the fun and excitement of chemistry. While we are honored to provide the requirements for the Boy Scouts to earn their merit badge, the ACS undergraduates are also served by the opportunity to teach others and
enthuse the younger generation about chemistry… and the opportunity to make liquid nitrogen ice cream is always a bonus!
Marie Melzer earned her Ph.D. from
Georgetown University, Washington, DC,
lectures full-time at Old Dominion University,
Norfolk, VA, and is faculty advisor of the ODU
ACS student chapter.
Kaleigh Wiley is a senior chemistry major at
Old Dominion University, and is president of the ODU ACS student chapter.
Flame tests. Liquid nitrogen ice cream making. Shown are members of the ACS student chapter:
Elizabeth Journigan, Caitlyn Conway, and Emily Kowalczyk.