Slime and soap bubbles contribute to Chemistry Day fun

dranii@newsobserver.comOctober 12, 2013 

— “Hey guys, you want to make some slime?”

That was the playful come-on that a half-dozen volunteers at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences used to attract youngsters to the “Playful Polymers” demonstration that was a part of Chemistry Day on Saturday.

Those who were inexorably drawn by the ick factor donned safety goggles and an apron, then proceeded to combine a mixture of Elmer’s glue, Borax laundry detergent, food coloring and water into a mass of glop. Helpful hint: If you roll the slime between the palms of your hands, it becomes less sticky.

“I made a giant slime!” exclaimed Scout Inscoe, a pith-helmet-wearing 5-year-old from Wake Forest, as he proudly offered a plastic container’s worth of gelatinous treasure to his mother.

“That is so creepy,” replied Laura Inscoe, 37, whose broad smile made it obvious that she wasn’t creeped out at all.

As you might expect, given the museum setting, there was a lesson slyly lurking beneath the gooey surface.

“Slime is a polymer, a long chain of molecules,” said Andry Andriankaja, a BASF biologist who was among the volunteer goo-ologists – not the scientific term – who supervised the slimearama.

Chemistry Day is one of a series of family-oriented education events at the museum. The annual BugFest is by far the most popular; coming events include Fossil Fair and Natural History Halloween.

At the latter, slated for Oct. 26, “we’ll talk about the creepy animals – what makes them creepy but also what makes them cool,” said Bonnie Eamick, the museum’s curator of educational events.

For years, Chemistry Day has been co-sponsored by the North Carolina section of the American Chemical Society. About 95 volunteers – corporate scientists, university professors and students – were on hand to demonstrate the science behind our everyday lives.

“The point is to spread enthusiasm for chemistry and to tell people the role chemistry plays in their lives,” said James Harrington, the society’s outreach coordinator.

“Every physical event ... that happens in the world can be reduced to a molecular level. So, if you understand how things work on a molecular scale, you can learn how to design better things – like a more effective battery or more nutritious food. If you understand how things work, you can solve a lot of the world’s problems.”

Hence scientists such as Gary Smith, 61, a biochemist at GlaxoSmithKline until Monday, when he retires, demonstrated that carbon dioxide is heavier than air by blowing soap bubbles into a plastic tub containing dry ice, the solid form of carbon dioxide.

The bubbles hung suspended in the middle of the tub because they’re floating on a cushion of carbon dioxide gas created by the dry ice as its melts.

“I just love sharing science with everybody, including, and maybe especially, kids,” said Smith.

Ed Nordine, 68, a librarian at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida visited the museum Saturday with his wife and three grandchildren, Amber, Emily and Logan Matlach of Apex. He was delighted to discover it was Chemistry Day.

“I work with college student and chemistry professors,” he said. “To see this kind of outreach is encouraging and exciting to me. I like to see higher education reaching out to the community.”

Chemistry Day wasn’t all fun and games, however. For those seeking science on a higher level, the lecture topics included “Using Chemistry to Target Cancer Cell DNA,” “Defending Chemical Synthesis in the Age of Synthetic Biology” and “What We Are Learning About Biodiversity in Our Studies of DNA in the Genomics and Micro Lab.”

Not quite as sexy as a gloriously slimy polymer.

Ranii: 919-829-4877

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