Chemistry and Biochemistry

Excitement, Explosions, and Artificial Scents Filled the Air

Posted: Jun 17, 2013

Students at the Open Lab Day magic show were captivated by green fire tornadoes, exploding cotton balls, and flaming Y’s that capture the words of Neil deGrasse Tyson: “If you are scientifically literate, the world looks very different.”

Sponsored by Y-Chem, the student chapter of the American Chemistry Society (ACS), Open Lab Day is an exciting demonstration of chemistry-related experiments that encouraged students to notice science in the world around them and provided a great opportunity for students in grades 5–12 to experience all that BYU chemistry has to offer.

According to Will Rankin, president of Y-Chem, the purpose of Open Lab Day is to expose kids to the hands-on side of chemistry, so that “they can see the neat stuff labs involve, because [chemistry is] hard but also a lot of fun.”

Timpview High School freshman Skyler Conley enjoys labs in his classes for that reason. “My favorite part is lab stuff because it is interactive and you get to figure stuff out with your hands rather than work with pencil and paper,” said Conley.

One of the activities at the event was the opportunity to experiment with the synthesis of fragrant esters and create artificial flavors and scents.

Y-Chem volunteer James Brady thinks this lab resonated with the participants.  “This is the first year we’ve done this lab, ”he said,“and I like it a lot because the smells make it a lot more interesting.”

The smells allow students to experience chemistry firsthand and understand in one small, but significant way how chemistry applies to their lives.

The hope is that labs like this will “help motivate kids to get interested in learning about chemistry and to get involved with science,” said Rankin.

This was the case for Enrique Cahua, a sophomore from Springville High School.  “Ever since I stepped into the lab, I knew I wanted to study chemistry and biochemistry at BYU,” said Cahua.

Other students are still trying to decide.  Darby Farr, a junior from Springville High School, first experienced chemistry in high school and wants to see what college chemistry has to offer.

“I’m thinking about [studying chemistry]—I just want more exposure to see if I like it, and [Open Lab Day] is very good for that,” said Farr.

While Open Lab Day focuses on younger students, the ACS and Y-Chem hope to also get others in the community involved in chemistry to help them better understand what it is and what it does.

And if nothing else, Open Lab Day is helping to build a scientifically literate generation.

By Caroline Smith, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences

Photos by Josh Siebert