A team of volunteers from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's Army Research Laboratory provided an afternoon of fun learning for children and youths of the Aberdeen Area Youth Center in celebration of National Chemistry Week Oct. 15.

Doctor Sandra K. Young, ARL materials engineer, and a team of volunteers from the Weapons and Materials Research Directorate presented experiments coinciding with the National Chemistry Week theme: Chemistry is Elemental.

"We tried to use experiments that would be easy to point out what the elements were," Young said.

Groups of youths rotated through six stations set up by the ARL team in the center gymnasium.
At Station #1, youths were led in a quest to determine the amount of sugar in foods and beverages.

"We are constantly barraged with information about foods and are faced with the epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes," Young said. "Yet, we don't take enough time to talk to our children about what is in packaged foods."

Students guessed how much sugar was in a can of Coca Cola and a candy bar then read the nutrition facts on the labels and talked about how the information is required by law to be on any edible product.

"While you might read that there are thirty-seven grams of sugar in one can of coke, we don't use the metric system for our standard weights, so what does that really mean'" Young asked.

The children then guessed how many sugar cubes were in each product. Many were surprised to learn that one can of Coke contains 17 sugar cubes (37 grams of sugar). They also found that a candy bar held 12 sugar cubes (24 grams) and that labeling does not specify the quantities of high-fructose corn syrup and other ingredients that the body has a hard time processing.
The message was to read product labels and to consume products like these in moderation.

The elements C (carbon), H (hydrogen) and O (oxygen) were the focus of the experiment.

At Station #2, Amazing Ice Blocks, youths were invited to view two apparently similar square, black blocks for similarities and differences and guess what material the two blocks were made of. They guessed on what would happen when a piece of ice was placed on each block. Many guessed that the one block was made of wood or plastic and the other was metal and that the ice on the wood/plastic block would melt faster because it was 'warmer.' They were surprised to see that the opposite happened.

"Metal, in this case aluminum, is a great conductor of electricity and heat," Young explained.
"When the ice was placed on the blocks, it almost immediately melted on the aluminum block because of conduction or heat transfer. This is also why when you think about insulating a house you think about plastics, fluffy foam insulation, and not metals."

The experiment focused on the elements Al (aluminum); C (carbon) H (hydrogen) and O (oxygen).

Doctor Jeffrey Swab, ceramics engineer, hosted Station #3, Magnetic Materials, in which the youths used a magnetic wand to test different metals that they were familiar with to determine whether they were magnetic or not and talked about why some metals are needed for certain applications.

"They were very inquisitive and intrigued and they caught on quickly," Swab said. "They learned that there are a lot of things to do with magnetic properties in metals."

A former engineering instructor at the U.S. Army at the U.S. Army Military Academy at West Point, Swab said he has volunteered with Chemistry Week activities for the past two years.

"With kids, hands-on stuff sinks in better than book work," he said.

The elements Ir (iridium), Ni (nickel), C (carbon), Cu (copper) and Zn (zinc) were applicable to this experiment.

At the fourth station, Magic Sand, children had to guess what would happen when water was added to sand in a test tube. Some test tubes contained sand coated with a hydrophobic coating which kept the sand from getting wet.

At the end of the experiment, the children were allowed to keep the test tubes.

This station demonstrated the elements of Si (silicon), O (oxygen), C (carbon) and H (hydrogen).

At Station #5 children learned that iodine is a great indicator for starch in foods and other items and that starch is a carbohydrate. They used iodine to test for starch in several food and non-food items such as wood, paper, uncooked noodles, cloth, foam and degradable peanut butter.

The elements I (iodine), C (carbon), H (hydrogen) and O (oxygen) were demonstrated in this experiment.

Kid-in-a-Bubble, Station #6, drew the most excitement among the youths where they learned that bubbles pop when water dehydrates. They took turns standing on a step stool in a pool filled with bubbles. A large wand was pulled up over them and they were literally inside the bubble.

Several blew bubbles from inside the bubble, demonstrating the elements of C (carbon), H (hydrogen) and O (oxygen).

The ARL volunteers included Lisa Marvel, electronics engineer and her father, Al Marvel; Dr. Thuvan Piehler, research chemist; Ann Bornstein, statistician; Andres Bujanda, materials engineer; and MyVan Baranoski, operations research analyst. All said they enjoyed the event as much as the children.

"This was fun," said Baranoski, who led the Station #1 experiment, "and it helps me because I generally don't like to speak in front of people. But the children were great. They were really surprised to learn how much sugar is in a can of coke. Seeing a number on a can doesn't speak to you the way a demonstration like this does."

Bornstein, who led the Magic Sand experiment, said she volunteers "as a way of giving back to the community."

Her daughter attended the Aberdeen Area Child Development Center from the age of 22-months, grew up attending the Youth Center and was a program assistant at the center after high school.

"This is like coming back and giving back for me," she said.

Bornstein was the first to start the GEMS program (Gains in the Education of Math and Science), an outreach program that encourages student interest in science, engineering and math. She also mentors high school and college students.

"The children responded more enthusiastically than I thought they would," she said. "I think they all learned something new today."

"I think they were all happy to learn something new," Lisa Marvel added. "At first they didn't know what to expect but then they really warmed up to the subject."

Bujanda, who led Station #2, said he has been volunteering with youth outreach programs for five years.

"It's a blast and the kids were awesome," he said. "They understood everything, and they asked good questions."

Young said ARL is able to present various outreach events throughout the year due to funding from the National Defense Education Program. She also runs the GEMS program.

"We want to capture them at a young age to show them science can be fun," she said.