CHAMPAIGN — Students at Jefferson Middle School watched carefully as Alka Seltzer in water blew the lids off film canisters and raisins bobbed up and down in seltzer water in class Monday morning.
But they really got excited when they combined white glue, a little bit of water, food coloring and borax to make a rubbery goo that started out slimy and ended up solid enough to bounce in their hands.
"Ew, ew ew, this is so fun to play with," said Ethan Barichello, who's 11 and a Jefferson sixth-grader.
As they mixed and then played with their balls of glue goo, Russell Jones explained, using paperclips to illustrate, how the borax links together long strands of glue molecules so they can't move around as freely. The result is a viscous substance, he told students, that feels solid but will start to seep through students' fingers if held in their palms long enough.
Jones is a Bayer scientist who specializes in soil and water and the behavior of crop protection.
The students were conducting the experiments with the help of Jones and other employees from Bayer CropScience, including a few from Raleigh, N.C. who are heading to the Farm Progress Show in Decatur this week. They were sharing experiments through Bayer's educational outreach program, called Making Science Make Sense.
The program is designed to get kids excited about science, and also trains teachers on teaching science, Bayer CropScience spokeswoman Becca Hogan said.
"It's always fun to come and work with the kids," she said, adding that many jobs are available in agricultural science, more than there are graduating qualified college students to fill them.
Bayer also has healthcare and material science divisions, Hogan said, and they're also involved in the Making Science Make Sense program, so it's not just based on crop science.
Bayer has a website that features science projects for kids, and parents and teachers can use it as a resource, Hogan said. It's at http://www.bayerus.com/msms. It includes science projects that can be done with accessible, inexpensive materials.
Bayer ended up at Jefferson because they have a pre-existing relationship, Hogan said. Bayer sponsors a salad bar in Jefferson's cafeteria through a program called Let's Move! Salad Bars 2 Schools.
Jefferson sixth-grader Quontario Western, who's 11, said he liked making the goo from glue and borax, and also appreciated an experiment that had students smashing leaves onto filter paper with plastic spoons to transfer chlorophyll.
Then, they dipped it in nail polish remover, which served as a solvent, in order to see green and yellow chlorophyll on their strips of filter paper. He said he liked that it was easy and could be done with everyday materials.
Michael Caldwell, who's also 11, liked the glue and borax experiment.
"It makes something awesome," he said.