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UT Students Make Chemistry Magic

Published: October 08, 2007
Before the wondering eyes of children at Tampa’s Gorrie Elementary School, a group of University of Tampa students mixed a concoction of chemicals that, upon contact, began to emit an eye-catching, colorful glow.

The awe-inspiring event was an example of what is known as chemoluminescence, the students explained, which is the emission of light without the emission of heat during a chemical reaction.

For the children though, it was just one of several spectacles in a “magic show,” put on last spring by members of UT’s Student Affiliate of the American Chemical Society (SAACS).

“They’re just so fascinated,” said UT senior Nicole Craig, chemistry major and last year’s president of SAACS. “The magic show was my favorite so far of all the events we’ve done,” Craig said.

The show was one of many successful chemistry-related activities that recently earned UT’s SAACS chapter a commendable award from the national American Chemical Society (ACS).

Out of more than 300 applications that were submitted to the ACS Committee on Education, only 51 commendable awards were granted – making the award a high-honor for which the UT chapter will be recognized at the 235th ACS National Meeting in New Orleans in April 2008.

Craig, along with current SAACS President Alejandra Aviles, both played an important role in invigorating interest and participation in the group last year, organizing various educational as well as social events.

Events included an ice cream social in which the ice cream was made using liquid nitrogen and a “beat-the-geek” event during National Chemistry Week, which tested knowledge of chemistry among non-science majors.

“It’s really just trying to make people aware of chemistry,” Aviles said. “Non-science majors can see the application of what we do. It seems like magic, but it’s all chemistry.”

Additionally, group members took a field trip to a Pinellas County forensics laboratory, where they were introduced to chemical professionals and learned how their own skills could be put to use in such a setting. Other trips included attendance at regional ACS conferences, where group members conducted presentations of various research they had done.

The group, which is open to all students majoring in science-related fields including physics and biology, was especially successful in fulfilling their mission of fostering an interest in chemistry considering its relatively small size, Craig said.

“I think it’s a big deal especially because we’re such a small group,” Craig said. “Some ACS groups have hundreds of members and we just have 10. So it was impressive that we did so much for such a small group.”

In commending the UT chapter for its work, ACS President-Elect Catherine T. Hunt expressed special recognition of the work of UT Assistant Professor John Struss in advising the group.

“Few faculty members are willing to make the great commitment of time and energy that a successful chapter requires,” Hunt said. “Professor Struss’ efforts certainly represent the best in undergraduate science education and mentoring around the country.”

In the near future, the group is looking to take a trip to a winery to learn of the process of how wine is manufactured, Craig said. Future elementary school magic shows and other such popular attractions could also be in the works, she said.

“We try to do a lot of educational events, but we have a lot of social events too,” Craig said. “Some people think that all we do is sit there and do chemistry problems.”