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Partner Highlight: Making the Most of the Explore Science: Let’s Do Chemistry Kit

Dr. Anna Cavinato, Eastern Oregon University, La Grande, OR

When the Student Chapter of the American Chemical Society (Chemistry Club) received the NISE Net's Explore Science: Let’s Do Chemistry kit in September of 2018, it was like early Christmas! We were delighted to discover all the different experiments and opened box after box of supplies in amazement. Our brains soon went to work trying to figure out ways to integrate the activities in the many outreach events that we conduct throughout the year.

The Eastern Oregon University (EOU) Chemistry Club has a long standing tradition of bringing hands-on science activities to the local community and the region. We are located in the northeastern corner of Oregon, in a largely rural area where often schools have limited resources to provide lab-based activities. The club has been recognized multiple times by ACS with outstanding awards and enjoys a strong relationship with the Richland Local Section who helps promote and support our activities. The kit seemed immediately the perfect match for our outreach events.

Girls in Science

The first chance to test the kits came about during National Chemistry Week when we hold “Girls in Science”, a large outreach event that brings every fall over 100 girls in grades 6th through 8th to the EOU campus to solve a mystery with integrated STEM activities. 

Girls from all over northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington were posed with the challenge to solve a mystery about a fish die-off in a hypothetical watershed. Girls rotated through various activities in biology, chemistry, computer science and math which provided background knowledge and tests to determine the cause of the environmental disaster. The specific kits that were used for the chemistry portion of the event were “Cleaning Oil Spills with Chemistry” and “What’s in the Water”. The oil spill activity was used as packaged while the water activity was augmented with measurements on nitrates, phosphates and lead in water. Both kits worked well and it was great to see the girls so engaged in testing different approaches to cleaning the spill and understand the impact the pH has on the survival of fish and other aquatic species!


Festival of Trees

Another great event to put the kits to good use was “Festival of Trees”, a fundraiser held over the holiday season open to the entire community. 

We decided to use the “Rocket Reactions” and “Sublimation Bubbles” to promote the National Chemistry Week (NCW) theme. We did not realize what hit these activities would be! Throughout the day we had literally hundreds of children playing with bubbles and “launching” rockets. Quite a few adults didn’t mind standing in line to wait their turn and we had competitions for who could make the biggest bubble!


Rural Community Outreach in Partnership with Treasure Valley Community College

Having tested the kits in different environments, we decided to use them for another large outreach event that we usually organize in a small rural community or an area with large minority population. 

In March of this year we chose to work in partnership with Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, OR which agreed to open their science labs to the event. Fifty children, boys and girls, including eight Boy Scouts wanting to earn their chemistry Merit Badge participated in the day of activities. Divided in small groups, children rotated throughout the day completing all the kit experiments. To keep even rotation times, we expanded some of the activities. For example, we coupled “Building a Battery” with building electromagnets from different types of metals and wires, and integrated molecular kits in “Chemistry Makes Scents” so that children could better visualize the chiral centers and construct their own isomers. Having the kits all assembled and ready to go on the road made the organization of the day so much easier. Children loved the activities and left full of excitement and wonderment.

Student Outreach with 6th-8th Graders

Another day filled with fun and discoveries was held in May when over sixty students in grades 6th- 8th participated in an outreach event for Native Americans from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

We traveled to Sunridge Middle School in Pendleton, OR and conducted activities based on “Chemistry is Colorful”, “Chemistry Makes Scents”, “Rocket Reactions”, and “Sublimation Bubbles”. It was great that we could relate the activities in “Chemistry is Colorful” to the Chemists Celebrate Earth Week (CCEW) theme of paper and rockets and bubbles to NCW.  And what a great way to learn more on different phases of matter by not only making sublimation bubbles using dry ice but also ice cream with liquid nitrogen!


These are just a few examples of how the Explore Science: Let’s Do Chemistry kit was integrated in our outreach events. The list could go on as they were used at a science night at the local middle school, at a technology fair on the EOU campus where the carvone activity was expanded to include the use of a polarimeter, and for a workshop for SMILE students visiting our campus.

The Let’s Do Chemistry kit has traveled many miles and brought safe, fun, and exciting activities to over 1,000 children in eastern Oregon. Who knows where it will go next?

For any questions about Eastern Oregon University Chemistry Club's outreach activities, please contact Dr. Anna Cavinato at [email protected]