by KIANA HUGHES
From the woods to the lab, over 40 girl scouts joined the members of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in one of UT’s organic chemistry labs, for a chemistry-filled day, on Oct. 21. In hopes of inspiring young girls to get involved in science, the girl scouts were invited to work alongside ACS members in a variety of interactive experiments, during ACS’s first on-campus event targeted at children and teenagers.
Nicole Zembol, ACS’s current president, and senior psychology major, worked alongside one of her professors and another ACS member to put the finishing touches on the proposed event.
Once the event began, the girl scouts trotted into the lab with smiles on their faces, appearing anxiously excited to dive deep into some science. ACS tailored the activities around the requirements needed for the young girl scouts to receive their STEM badges. While the girl scouts, wearing lab goggles that covered their entire faces, assisted their new lab partners in making elephant toothpaste, slime and a density tower, they also learned the importance of basic chemical reactions in creating these products.
As two ACS members, in their white lab coats, systematically mixed yeast and warm water in one beaker, and hydrogen peroxide, dish soap and food coloring into another beaker, the girl scout’s eyes widened and their mouths dropped in awe as the members poured the two beakers simultaneously into a third beaker which created an intense chemical reaction that forced a bright blue foam to come to life and pour from the beaker.
One of the girl scouts shouted, “Can we touch it?” and before the lab mentors could even agree, the fascinated children pushed the lab mentors out of the way to grab the elephant toothpaste with their tiny gloved hands. “Ew, it’s warm” shouted another girl scout, overtop the sound of giggling, as she continued to mush the foam through her fingers.
Before the girl scouts arrived, Lindsay Truesdale, vice president of ACS, junior biology major said, “I want them to really love this event, and maybe they will remember it and become interested in science.”
“I like how the smoke came down and made that weird looking steam come out of the pot.”, said third grader and active girl scout, Dagny Haggerty. She explained that the ice cream activity was her favorite experiment of the day.
The ACS members made ice cream before the girl scout’s eyes using the basic ingredients including whipping cream, half and half, sugar, vanilla extract, and with one last exciting touch, liquid nitrogen. As the ACS members combined and mixed the basic ingredients, John Struss, the academic advisor for ACS, poured the liquid nitrogen, from a huge metal container, into the mixing bowls. The young girls jumped from their seats when the liquid nitrogen produced substantial amounts of fog over flowing from the sides of the mixing bowls.
Though Haggerty enjoyed eating her ice cream, she enjoyed the demonstration even more. “I like science because you can launch rockets with it and stuff.”, said Haggerty, as she continued to explain her passion for science. When Haggerty was asked if she would become a scientist when she grew up, she said, “Honestly, I can’t tell. The time will tell.”
Later that day, the older girl scouts were welcomed into the lab. These girl scouts were aiming to earn their Exploration of Chemicals in Cosmetics, badges, so they assisted ACS members in more intense experiments than the younger girl scouts were offered.
Interacting with and inspiring the older girls was one of Truesdale’s favorite aspects of the event because she could incorporate her passion for naturopathic medicine into the experiments and teachings. Truesdale used this logic “to explain to the girls that it’s important to be aware of the chemicals in cosmetics and how they harm our natural bodies.” The girl scouts made organic chapstick from all-natural products including beeswax, shea butter, coconut oil and a variety of essential oils such as peppermint, cinnamon cassia, and lavender oil. Truesdale said this experiment was so important “because I wanted to show them how easy it is for them to make their own cosmetic products, that are free of all the chemicals. It makes it more personal too.”
Other experiments that the girl scouts participated in, required the girls to use their senses and analyze their findings. One of the experiments involved sampling different fabrics for their texture and thickness. Another experiment required the girls to smell different samples of functional groups, defined by Truesdale as “a grouping of elements that are common in organic chemistry and their behavior can be predicted.” The functional groups had specific scent properties to them that are commonly used in perfumes.
While ACS focused on exciting the younger girl scouts about science in general, they wanted to show the older girl scouts how science impacts their daily lives. They learned about the discrepancies in the cosmetic’s world, where harmful chemicals, not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are often used in the production of beauty products and other cosmetics.
Lindsay Truesdale, vice president of ACS, junior biology major and previous girl scout in her younger years, believes it is necessary to inspire kids and especially young girls to take part in science. Truesdale said, “Science makes up everything around us, it is the world were living in. With our future in mind, as we continue to not take care of the oceans, and with different diseases emerging, it is very important for women especially, to take a stand and be a part of what is going on around us and to revolutionize science in some way.”
Both Zembol and Truesdale believe the girl scout event was a success and Zembol hopes that with this event and future events like this, ACS can inspire children and teenagers to become interested in science. ACS also hopes to inspire young women, who are currently underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), to become interested in science or STEM-related careers. Zembol said she hoped that this event could help “open up their minds, and show them this is something you can do in your life and take an interest in.”
The members of ACS look forward to hosting more events like this in the future and hope to expand the invitation to boy scouts and students of elementary schools. “I want to take Harry Potter experiments into elementary schools. But that’s going to take a while, so I’m holding Lindsay to that.,” said Zembol
Kiana Hughes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org