LTU's Marburger STEM Center Ambassadors celebrate Halloween using chemistry in virtual workshop

Release Date: November 4, 2020

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SOUTHFIELD—The COVID-19 pandemic has made life anything but traditional this year, and that includes education. That’s why Lawrence Technological University’s Marburger STEM Center, the university’s clearinghouse for K-12 educational outreach, has shifted its activities to virtual events, delivering online STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) workshops to area public school districts.

On Oct. 27, LTU’s Marburger STEM Center Ambassadors delivered a workshop virtually to Chrisondra Austin’s STEM class at Glenn W. Levey Middle School, a STEM-focused school in the Southfield Public Schools. In the spirit of the season, the Ambassadors performed some well-known chemical reactions with a witchy fall twist.

Student Ambassador Kelsey Catania, a biomedical engineering major from Clarkston who will graduate at the end of the fall 2020 semester, began the session with a demonstration of the chemical reaction known as “Elephant Toothpaste” inside a carved pumpkin. To make “Elephant Toothpaste,” Kelsey poured hydrogen peroxide into a water bottle and added food coloring and soap. She then combined fast-acting yeast with warm water and added it to the water bottle containing the hydrogen peroxide. The hydrogen peroxide, which normally slowly releases oxygen, releases the oxygen much more quickly due to the yeast acting as a catalyst, a substance that speeds up a chemical reaction. The hydrogen peroxide decomposes into water and oxygen gas. The students loved watching the reaction create a colorful foam that oozed out of the eyes, nose, and mouth of the pumpkin.

Student Ambassador Katie Hotchkiss, a mechanical and manufacturing engineering technology major from Holland who expects to graduate in 2023, created some chemical reaction “potions” using baking soda and vinegar. When baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and vinegar (acetic acid) are mixed together, water, carbon dioxide gas and sodium acetate are formed. The carbon dioxide creates bubbles and foam, and the addition of food coloring causes the reaction to resemble a witch's potion.

The students enjoyed observing the lab demonstrations, and even made requests and suggestions for the Ambassadors to try during the session. After the workshop, 87 percent of the students said in a survey they were satisfied with the content and delivery. Furthermore, more than half of the students involved are also interested in pursuing a career in a STEM-related field, which demonstrates that the incorporation of STEM activities into virtual learning is vital for these students’ individual academic goals.

“Virtual learning is a very new and challenging experience with our students this year,” Austin said. “Workshops like these are significant as they help keep the students engaged. I couldn't help but notice the reaction from my students during the foaming pumpkin experiment. I know that this is something they'll remember from a very different school year.”

If you’d like to bring a Marburger STEM Center virtual program to your school, contact LTU STEM Outreach Coordinator Jaclyn Smith at jsmith19@ltu.edu.

Lawrence Technological University, www.ltu.edu, is a private university founded in 1932 that offers more than 100 programs through the doctoral level in its Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Business and Information Technology, and Engineering. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 15 percent of universities for the salaries of its graduates, and U.S. News and World Report lists it in the top tier of best Midwestern universities. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.