Chemistry students ‘haunt’ Echo Center

Saint Michael's chemistry fun 'haunts' Echo Leahy Center

October 29, 2019
By: Ashley DeLeon '23

The photo above shows Dave Heroux of the Saint Michael’s chemistry faculty doing a “magical” and colorful demonstration at the Echo Center last weekend. Images below are of St. Mike’s chemistry students at various activities, along with some other images from the day. (photos by Ashley DeLeon ’23)

Halloween is slowly approaching, and for many young children at the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, a premiere nature and science museum on the Burlington waterfront, a variety of fun experiments led by Saint Michael’s College volunteers sparked a wave of curiosity to kick-start the spooky season.

Professor David Heroux of the Saint Michael’s College chemistry faculty and the Green Mountain area coordinator for the American Chemical Society, led the event on October 26 and 27 in honor of National Chemistry Week. This year’s theme is Marvelous Metals. “National Chemistry Week is designed to highlight the importance of chemistry in people’s lives,” said Heroux. He added that chemistry is important in the everyday mechanics of life, whether we realize it or not. One of his many goals for the weekend was to bring awareness to science and its active role in our lives, and he achieved this by collaborating with student volunteers from the College’s Chemistry Club to create safe and enjoyable chemical experiments to engage young learners about science.

Heroux targets children for the event, as they are curious and interested in science, he said. Some experiments included creating beaded bracelets in which their colors can be activated by ultraviolet rays in the sun. Inside of the museum, young learners were able to activate color molecules in colorless beads by shining an ultraviolet flashlight over them. The ultraviolet light, a form of higher energy, changed the shape of each molecule and allowed for this visible change. When the light was turned off, the colorlessness returned as the molecules retracted to their ground states. As the children performed these experiments, their facial expressions revealed a fascination and curiosity about the science behind what had occurred before their eyes.

Towards noon, Heroux presented a chemistry magic show to demonstrate exciting experiments while fueling a high level of wonder among children and adults. The seats were filled to capacity with children and parents sitting on the ground and standing in the back of the seating area trying to catch a glimpse of science in action. Heroux began his show by wearing his magical hat and reminding kids that he is “both a chemist and a magician.”

The first experiment of the show involved pouring a colorless liquid in multiple clear test tubes. However, each test tube appeared a different color when the same liquid was poured. The children’s faces were in awe and a collaborative “whoaa!” could be heard throughout the entire museum. Instantly, many children speculated as to how this could occur. Heroux then turned the question to the audience and allowed children to hypothesize why each test tube appeared different. One eager learner pointed toward the possibility of a previous presence of liquids in each tube. Heroux then explained that he placed a different indicator solution in each one. The pH of each indicator varied, allowing for a color change when the neutral colorless liquid was poured. Heroux continued to perform a series of exciting experiments involving flames, liquid nitrogen, balloons, and “elephant toothpaste” inside of a Jack-O-Lantern.

The ECHO Museum’s focus on physical science and Heroux’s goal to engage young children allowed for a seamless collaboration. This is the second year that Saint Michael’s College has partnered with the ECHO Museum. Heroux said that the College had more than 30 volunteers for the event, which he attributed to the overall attitude of benevolence, service, and humility that is possessed by the student body and faculty.

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