Foray into science of chemistry

Caroline Bridges giggled as smoke left her mouth after munching on a graham cracker dipped in liquid nitrogen.

Caroline, a sixth-grader at Central Middle School, was one of more than 1,800 Ascension Parish sixth-graders to attend the 16th annual ChemFriends Exposition held Nov. 14 and Nov. 15 at the Gonzales Civic Center.

Area industries, a fire department and educational institutions used anything from bananas to flowers to a myriad of chemicals to teach students about science and chemistry.

Caroline and her classmates learned about chemical reactions and what happens to items when they are exposed to liquid nitrogen. The science experiment was led by Air Products employees.

“It’s good but cold,” Caroline said after eating the frozen cracker. “It stuck to my cheeks. It was so, so cold.”

At the booth manned by Occidental Chemical Corp. lab chemist Trish Singleton and others, students learned about acids and bases.

“It’s so fun to watch their eyes when they get it,” Singleton said. “I’m enjoying seeing the kids’ faces as they see the colors change and understand what is happening. You can see the light bulb go off.”

Richard P. Bergeron II, an environmental manager at Occidental Chemical Corporation and chairman of the ChemFriends committee, said the expo started in 1997 to raise students’ awareness and interest of science and chemistry. Over the years, he said, the volunteer group that organizes the event “have got it down to a science.”

“We really only meet as a group once with all the partners before the expo,” Bergeron said.

Weeks before the event, schools begin organizing their end, getting permission slips signed and lining up buses to transport the students to and from the expo, he said.

“This is a huge effort on the side of the school board and the schools and we can’t thank them enough for all the work they do,” Bergeron said.

He stressed that the expo is not a job fair or a career day to promote area industries.

“It’s for the students, not us,” Bergeron said. “It’s all about fun with chemistry and fun with science.”

Once the students arrived, they were divided into groups. Each group lined up behind a high school volunteer carrying a large sign with a letter. The letters represented a chemical element and were color coded to match the booths inside.

Students couldn’t enter the building until they received a pair of safety goggles.

After a quick speech about the rules of the expo and a safety talk, the students were led to the booths.

Each group got 11 minutes at four stations of the 16 stations. An air horn was used to let the group leaders know when it was time to move from station to station.

Jeanne Broussard, with BASF, quickly handed out green gloves to students arriving at her booth.

She and her co-workers guided the students through an experiment that combined two chemicals to make foam.

As a former teacher, Broussard said she enjoys the interaction with the students.

“It’s a fun day with science,” she said.

Central student Aaron Hayden agreed.

As he left the building, Aaron and his classmates talked about an experiment that used cornstarch.

“The cornstarch experiment was my favorite,” he said. “It was cool to see what happened.”

The excitement that Aaron and his classmates exhibited is just the result Bergeron said he was looking for.

“We want to spark that creative genius in each student,” he said.

Bergeron said he has met many adults who tell him that they decided to study science in college after attending ChemFriends as a sixth-grader.