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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Chemistry club turns matter into magic for local kids at “Wizards at Western”

From left to right: Dr. Betsy Raymond, Dr. Steve Emory, Neal Iversen and Chris Grote create a “cloud” with liquid nitrogen on Saturday, May 2, at the Wizards at Western chemistry demonstration. // Photo by Christina Becker

With liquid nitrogen fog and hydrogen peroxide foam, Western students and faculty showcased the magical properties of science to young students during a Wizards at Western demonstration.

“What’s the Matter” on Saturday, May 2, focused on the different properties of the phases of matter, and featured demonstrations by members of Western’s Chemistry Club for a group of local fourth through ninth-grade children.

Professor Betsy Raymond, chemistry professor and co-advisor of the Chemistry Club, was in charge of this quarter’s show. This was her third time leading the program.

“Kids are so curious when they’re young, and at some point in time that goes away,” Raymond said. She added that Wizards at Western aims to delay or prevent young people from losing interest in science.

The show started with students explaining what matter is and what the molecular structure of its different phases look like. Presentations included producing an eruption of dry ice foam to demonstrate accelerated chemical reactions, as well as an explanation of the molecular structure of snowflakes.

To demonstrate the versatility of cold liquids, Raymond filled a bowl with balloon animals and poured a cold substance onto the balloons. This caused the air in the balloons to contract and the balloons to shrink. Using this method, Raymond fit 17 balloons in the bowl, which then expanded back to full size in room temperature.

Members of Western’s Chemistry Club performed most of the demonstrations while Raymond explained them.

Junior Stephanie Sharp, a biology anthropology major and chemistry minor, has been participating in Wizards at Western since her freshman year.

“The Chemistry Club asked for volunteers and I’ve always wanted to be a part of it because it’s so exciting,” Sharp said. “I love science, so it’s all science, and it’s so fun to watch.”

Students at the Saturday show watched as Raymond filled a flask with solid iodine and heated it so the flask filled with purple iodine gas. By putting ice at the top of the flask, the iodine solidified again at the top.

Neal Iversen, a transfer student in his third year at Western, has been involved with Wizards at Western for about two years.

“I really try to get involved because I really believe in what we’re doing. I believe in trying to reach out and provide the community with awesome science,” Iversen said.

Wizards at Western see these productions not only as a way to teach chemistry, but to get kids on a college campus, Raymond said.

“If students can see themselves on campus, they know what a campus looks like and they’ve been on campus, they’re more likely to be able to picture themselves doing that when they get older,” Raymond said.

Another goal of the program is for Western students to interact with younger students and share their love of science by also helping out with local science fairs and doing demonstrations in elementary school classrooms, Raymond said.

Wizards at Western aims to host a presentation at least once each quarter.


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