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U Chemistry Festival Makes Science a Hands-On Experience

Student explains an experiment to children at the U chemistry festival
(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

 Last Saturday, there was only one place to see mini explosions and liquid nitrogen ice cream: the U’s second annual Chemistry Festival, hosted by the student chapter of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Held outside of the Skaggs Biology Building, the event had tables of student-run demonstrations for young students and families with children. Andrew Jo, an executive committee member of ACS, said the demos were a collaborative effort.

“We would go from table to table, running as many demonstrations as possible. Some of these demos [these kids have] never seen in their lifetime,” Jo said. “They asked … questions, [and we hope to] stimulate their [scientific] imaginations.”

Tables gave attendees hands-on experience in chemistry, biology and physics. Activities included making ice cream with liquid nitrogen and extracting DNA from strawberries. U students also put on larger demos, such as explosions. Presenters would interact with the crowd and familiarize them with chemical elements while giving these demonstrations.

One demo involved a student pulling a banana out of liquid nitrogen and shattering it on a table. She then pulled a ping pong ball out and asked the audience what would happen if she threw it. The audience shouted that it would shatter, but it bounced. Then she pulled a racket ball out and asked the same question. Again, the audience said it would shatter, confident that what led to the banana shattering must be more similar to the porous racket ball than the hard ping pong ball. Although it didn’t shatter, the racket ball wasn’t kept in the liquid nitrogen long enough, as the audience was able to infer.

Holly Sebahar, chemistry professor and co-advisor of ACS, said the festival’s goal was to show that science can be exciting.

“[It’s] very useful and applicable to their lives,” Sebahar said. “You see the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs,’ you see their curiosity and also the squeals during the explosions.”

In addition to this event, Sebahar said ACS puts on events at local middle schools. For times and locations, visit the ACS University of Utah Student Chapter Facebook page.

Article reposted from the Daily Utah Chronicle by Taylor Almond -

More photos of the event from the Deseret News! (photos by Kristin Murphy)

Last Updated: 6/3/21