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SLU chemistry students show Canton fifth graders cool experiments

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CANTON -The cafeteria at Canton Central’s McKenney Middle School looked more like a science laboratory than a lunchroom Thursday morning as fifth graders gathered to conduct cool experiments with chemistry students from St. Lawrence University.

Wearing science goggles to protect their eyes, the youngsters had the chance to learn about chemical reactions by visiting four different stations set up by members of SLU’s American Chemical Society.

At one stop, they watched liquid nitrogen transform a mix of dairy products into homemade vanilla ice cream.

“The liquid nitrogen induces a phase change that alters the milk and cream into a solid,” explained Greg J. McDonald, a 21-year-old SLU chemistry major from Syracuse.

Wearing safety goggles, the fifth graders had a chance to sample the creamy frozen mixture.

“This is fun,” said Sky J. Kennedy, 10. “You get to learn a lot of stuff instead of sitting in a class doing worksheets.”

At another station, children learned how yeast and potassium iodide work as catalysts to speed up chemical reactions.

They watched a foamy substance erupt from a glass beaker when Rachael M. Kenney, 21, added yeast or potassium iodide to a mixture of hydrogen peroxide, dye and dish soap.

Hydrogen peroxide naturally breaks down into water and oxygen over time, but the process is speeded up adding either yeast or potassium iodide.

“This is yeast. It’s kind of icky, but it makes cool things happen,” Ms. Kenney said.

Omaru Kabia, 21, also a SLU chemistry major, said he probably would have gotten interested in chemistry sooner if he had been exposed to fun science experiments at an earlier age.

“I love watching their facial expressions,” Mr. Kabia said. “It would be cool if one of these students grew up and became a chemist.”

Nicholas C. Estabrooks, 10, said he liked moving from station to station.

“It’s fun to see how things work out, see if they explode, see if they freeze,” he said.

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