Fire balls, bubbles and more

13 June 2017 | Education
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A student from CHIJ Katong Convent bouncing a bubble

The NUS Chemistry Week was held from 1 to 9 June, concluding with the Surprising Chemistry Workshop in the Science Demonstration Laboratory. Attended by more than 20 Secondary Three students, the closing workshop was an eye-opener for the participants.

Professor Richard Wong, Head of NUS Chemistry, who spoke at the opening of NUS Chemistry Week on 1 June said that the department hoped to provide people with the opportunity to explore new and fun concepts in chemistry, and for the public to have a better understanding of the science behind daily life.

The three-hour workshop began with two fiery demonstrations by Mr Lim Kim Yong, Scientific Manager from NUS Science. The first demonstration showcased a dazzling row of coloured flames which offered an insight into how colourful fireworks are created, while the second demonstration saw Mr Lim generating a fireball using only a rubber tube and lycopodium powder. Explaining the motivation behind the afternoon’s activities, Mr Lim said, “We want students to be enthusiastic about science, not only about what can be found in the textbooks, but what can be found around them.”

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An intrepid student from Hougang Secondary School creates his own fireball under the watchful eyes of Mr Lim (in lab coat)

The students were also given the opportunity to embark on experiments at four stations — Bubble Fun, Diapers Fun, Hydrophobic Sand Art and Smartphone Microscope. Mobile phones, normally forbidden in class, became required equipment at the smartphone microscope station. Students created blobs of silicone, which were then placed over the smartphone camera lens, converting it into a microscope with which the students took pictures of plant and animal cells.

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Three students from Hougang Secondary School, guided by NUS Science undergraduate Edenuis Lua (right), learnt about super absorbent polymers and how they help diapers retain liquid

The stations were manned by eight volunteers from the Young Educators in Science (YES) programme, one of them being NUS Science student Kelly Phua, who has just completed Year 2. A member of YES since her first year, Kelly said, “I find it most rewarding when they are able to understand complex concepts which have been broken down into simpler terms.”

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Kelly (standing) sharing with students from CHIJ Katong Convent the science behind bubbles and how they could be made to last longer by adding glycerin or starch to the solution

YES started in 2011 as a means of providing undergraduates with the opportunity to explain science to their peers, students in secondary school and junior college, as well as members of the public, said Mr Lim.

We want students to be enthusiastic about science, not only about what can be found in the textbooks, but what can be found around them.

Ansel Teo from Hougang Secondary School found the workshop interesting as he enjoyed being able to speak to people familiar with scientific concepts. “If I have any questions, I can learn more from them,” he shared. His classmate Tan Ek Hohn said that he learned a few new things, such as why soap is slippery, and added that he would recommend the workshop to classmates who were not present.

The Surprising Chemistry Workshop is part of the series of Surprising Science workshops supported by Dow Chemical Company.