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Monmouth College students take chemistry into community schools

Barry McNamara
Chemistry students conduct experiments and demonstrations with students at the Lutheran Preschool and DayCare Center.
When Monmouth College students venture out to local schools to present chemistry demonstrations, it’s hard to tell who has more fun – the young children being exposed to science or the Monmouth students themselves.

The College took chemistry into the Monmouth community three times in March, including a pair of visits to the Lutheran Preschool and Day Care Center and a visit to a second-grade class at Immaculate Conception School.

“The students really want to do this, and whether or not some of them become teachers or professors, it’s important for them to be able to explain science to other people,” said Associate Professor of Chemistry Audra Sostarecz.

Sostarecz said the younger students were treated to several demos, including one in which the Monmouth students “shined a light through a solution, which produced the colors of the rainbow.”

“The kids really loved that, because at that age, color can be really interesting to them,” she said. “Our students also made ‘flubber’ out of glue, borax and food coloring. It turns out a lot like Silly Putty.”

The Lutheran preschoolers were also treated to the popular Diet Coke and Mentos demonstration, which results in a volcanic soft drink explosion. The experiment was stepped up a few notches for the older students at ICS, where it was turned into an interactive exercise that included hypotheses, experiments and measurements.

“We showed them a Diet Coke-Mentos video made on a high-speed camera (by her husband, Monmouth faculty member Mike Sostarecz),” said Sostarecz. “Then I asked them, ‘How does it work?’ So it involved them having a hypothesis, designing experiments and using some of the measurement equipment we brought with us.”

(Sostarecz said that Diet Coke’s combination of phosphoric acid and the viscosity of its aspartame make it the best choice over “clear” and sugary sodas.)

Sostarecz hopes to get her students into the community one more time this semester, conducting a session involving forensic science with the ICS students that uses statistical measurements in place of fingerprinting for establishing identification.

Two groups of Monmouth students worked with the Lutheran students. On the first day, Brandon Allen ’18 of Marengo, Ill., Rachel Book ’19 of Byron, Ill., Laura Sanchez ’18 of Bensenville, Ill., and Brandy Yoder ’18 of Freeport, Ill., participated. The other group consisted of Annie Axup ’17 of Rock Island, Ill., Brittney Book ’18 of Byron, Ill., and YeJun Park ’17 of Seoul, South Korea.

Sanchez, Yoder, Meghan Cheever ’17 of Chicago and Morgan Gulley ’17 of Mascoutah, Ill., visited ICS.

“In the past, we’ve worked with K-6 students in one big auditorium, but I think these targeted demos work better,” said Sostarecz. “We can talk to the students more and make it a more interactive experience.”