Day camp at UI shows science 'not just for boys'

URBANA – Cathy Seebauer squealed as she added baking soda to a beaker with water colored purple from the dye of cabbage, a good pH indicator.

"It turned blue. Cool," said the 11-year-old from Urbana.

Seconds later, she and lab mates Allison Kaefring and Rachel Stickels, both 11 and of Champaign, giggled as the concoction they produced by adding baking soda and vinegar to the cabbage water foamed over the sides of a beaker and onto the counter of the station in Noyes Lab where they were working Saturday.

The girls were among 40 who took part in a chemistry day camp targeted at girls going into sixth and seventh grades. This Saturday, a similar program is being offered at Noyes from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for girls going into eighth and ninth grades.

The events are put on by the East Central Illinois Women Chemists Committee and are sponsored by the East Central Illinois section of the American Chemical Society and the University of Illinois Department of Chemistry. Among the two dozen helpers on hand Saturday were undergraduate and graduate students in chemistry as well as staff members.

"We want them to see that chemistry is everywhere," said Lynne Miller, a professor of organic chemistry. "Science is not just for boys."

Miller led a project illustrating the concept of chromatography – writing with color – by tie-dying T-shirts. The girls used colored markers to make designs on the shirts, then applied rubbing alcohol to what they had drawn to make the inks spread out into artistic designs. The alcohol dissolves the colors so they can move on the shirt, Miller explained.

The T-shirt project was a favorite of many of the aspiring chemists. Other hands-on lab projects included making soap and snow globes, extracting iron from breakfast cereal, and filling balloons with carbon dioxide produced from the combination of vinegar and baking soda inside soda bottles. One helper commented that the girls consumed 8 pounds of baking soda Saturday.

The girls were also counseled about safety in the lab, donning goggles for most of their projects.

"Very glamorous," Stickels said of her eye wear.

"You don't ever want to eat anything in a chemistry lab," said Katie Brown, a third-year graduate student in physical chemistry, in response to whether the red cabbage was still edible after having been squished to extract its purple dye.

"Never eat anything that glows," Seebauer chimed in.

Payton Archer, 11, of Champaign said she would recommend the workshop to her friends. Her older sister attended last year's inaugural event.

"I like doing chemistry because I like to mix stuff," she said.

"Usually we boil mud and put noodles in it," Archer said of her at-home experiments, which incidentally are allowed only by Grandma, not Mom.

Tripta Mishra, a senior in chemistry from Mumbai, India, took part in last year's event and helped plan this year's.

She told the girls she wants to make perfumes and cosmetics when she gets out into the working world.

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