Thursday, October 23, 2014

BYU celebrates National Chemistry Week with fire and liquid nitrogen

This year for National Chemistry Week, BYU’s chemistry department celebrated with various chemistry-themed activities, which included explosion-filled magic shows and liquid nitrogen ice cream.

National Chemistry Week is an annual celebration of Chemistry that began in the late 1980’s and is sponsored by the American Chemical Society. The purpose of National Chemistry is to reach out to people by showing the importance of chemistry and the contribution chemistry makes on society.

“Well, it’s a little arrogant of us, but we actually say it’s the central science,” said Dr. Jennifer Nielson, a chemistry professor at BYU. “Because we figure if you’re in physics you might want to know what molecules you’re working with. If you’re in biology, you might want to know why your molecules are doing what they are. So we think if you study chemistry, no matter what you do after that you’re actually going to be good at problem solving and you’ll have a good idea of how electrons work and, you know, how different molecules work.”

Nielson also talked about how many career opportunities there are for one who studies chemistry. She gave examples in her own life how her first two jobs when she finished her undergraduate studies, despite not being at a chemistry department or lab, were easy to get because a chemist was needed.

The theme this year for National Chemistry Week was “The Sweet Side of Chemistry—Candy.” One thing that was done to go with this theme was the magic shows that were put on. These magic shows were targeted towards a younger audience and played every night of the week at 6:30 and 7:30 in the Ezra Taft Benson building on BYU campus. While these shows included plenty of fire and explosions that one may come to expect from a chemistry magic show, the candy theme was also taken advantage as lots of things were done with various sweets, which fit very well with Halloween being around the corner.

Valerie Harmon, who heard about the magic shows through a school group, was one mother in attendance who came with her husband and kids because her kids are fascinated with science.

“Besides the fact that it’s absolutely fun, my 11-year-old in particular I feel like his mission in life will be the sciences. He’s only 11 and he’s reading high school books on astronomy and chemistry, particularly the elements. And so for his future I think he’s going to be studying science and the kind of foundation we lay here at his current age will help him with that,” said Harmon.

A popular attraction right outside the magic shows was the booth where liquid nitrogen ice cream was being sold for a dollar. The chemistry students that were manning the booth made the ice cream right in front of customers by pouring ice cream base from the BYU Creamery into a mixing bowl, then pouring liquid nitrogen onto it. Ice Cream was instantly formed from this process that some claimed tasted like a frosty from Wendy’s. Outside of being put on from 6 to 9 p.m. during the magic shows on Monday through Friday, the booth was also present in the Ezra Taft Benson Building from 11 a.m to 2 p.m. while many are in class. While the ice cream has the most popular attraction from the booth, chemistry mugs and chemistry shirts were also on sale.

Among other events that happened during the week, a presentation was given by Dr. Alexandra Novrotsky, a renowned materials chemist from University of CA, Davis, who spoke about her career as a woman in science. Also, at the end of National Chemistry Week there will be a kids’ hands-on chemistry workshop in the Provo Library. That is Saturday from 1-3 p.m. 

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