The Dugway High School students, accompanied by their science teacher Rachel Gardner, were invited Dec. 18 to see how chemicals differ in color and burn rates when ignited. The demonstrations were conducted at the Hazardous Materials Test Facility, where chemists usually instruct military and civilian specialists how to recognize the work of the world's havockers.
Though it was not under an official S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) national program, the invitation to the students was in the same spirit: nurture their yearning for chemistry and related sciences.
Jim Moff and Joshua Erickson, chemists with the Special Programs Division of Dugway's West Desert Test Center, enjoyed demonstrating active chemistry.
"It's a different audience but it's fun," Moff said. "It's always fun to see science in action; practical application is always rewarding to convey."
Using mortar and pestle, and electronic scales, the students measured the oxidizer strontium nitrate and the fuel hexamine (familiar to Soldiers and campers as a campfire starter), to observe the compound's burning rate and color. For safety, visitors viewed all burning through clear polycarbonate barriers, at a safe distance; Moff ignited all the demonstrations.
At the end of the tour, the four students and teacher reviewed what they'd learned. In a classroom, Erickson reviewed some basic chemistry formulas and observations: potassium burns purple, materials that don't self-ignite lack activation energy, and modern explosives leave little behind but nitrogen gas. The students and teacher also took a 10-question quiz, based on the demonstrations.
"It's so fantastic to see real scientists, a cool job site, and you get to play," Gardner said of the Hazardous Materials Test Facility. "It's really wonderful for the kids to see real professionals doing exciting things in the field. It's a fantastic program."
As the students climbed into a Tooele County School District van to return to their school, they chatted and chuckled excitedly about all they'd seen and learned. Perhaps someday one or more of them will be working in Dugway's labs, or the HMTF itself, puzzling out how to identify and defend against toxic chemicals and homemade explosives.
If their enthusiasm is any measure, the chemical students may someday be tough adversaries for the havockers of the world.