This summer our informal learning space, the BOOMbox, is exploring all things engineering. The rotation is 16 weeks long and we’re focusing on a different field of engineering every two weeks. Last month we shared information about a program related to civil engineering and this month, we’re sharing highlights from our two weeks of exploring chemical engineering. Please note these activities were intended to provide a foundation of chemistry knowledge. We used that as a starting point for discussing what chemical engineering is with participants, and how it affects us on a day to day basis. Here’s what we featured.

We brought back a few of our favorite chemistry related activities that we knew would be popular as well as provide hands on learning opportunities. These included slime, marker chromatography, chemical volcanic eruptions, molecule building with element cards, and Periodic Table Battleship.

Slime MakingSlime was definitely loved by patrons and even our director joined us as we experimented with liquid detergent vs Borax recipes. Since this was a messy activity, we only featured slime a handful of times, namely when two staff members were available. The BOOMbox doesn’t have a sink so we made sure we had hand wipes in the space and then escorted participants to the Craft Room to wash their hands thoroughly. I’ve written about the science of slime, including recipe suggestions, over at School Library Journal. Check out the article here.

Marker chromatography was suggested by two youth patrons who were messing around with washable markers and coffee filters we had on hand for general making. We modified this activity a bit to use the resources we had. Participants drew a design on the coffee filter with washable markers or Sharpies, then used a spray bottle with either just water or a water-alcohol solution to spread the marker colors. We used this as a way to talk about what chromatography is, why some markers spread better than others, and why the water-alcohol solution worked better as a solvent.

Erupting VolcanoBack in winter of 2016, the BOOMbox focused on Earth and had a weekly chemical volcanic eruption using a patron made paper mache-like volcano and the standard acid-base reaction of vinegar and baking soda. This was super popular so we brought it back. It helps visually teach the basics of chemistry in a fun, interactive and inexpensive way.

Finally, our homemade Periodic Table Battleship game made a return appearance. This is not a quick activity and worked well for patrons who wanted to engage a bit longer in the BOOMbox. The game does require a partner and staff are available to fill in as necessary. When playing, we encourage participants to try saying the name of the element they are guessing and to learn a bit more about it using the Photographic Card Deck of The Elements. Having a few molecular modeling kits around also encouraged further exploration of elements, compounds, and molecules.

While this field of engineering was explored more abstractly, youth participants really enjoyed diving into basic chemistry. We hope that even surface level exploration of chemistry will inspire kids to ask more question and go a little further in their information seeking next time. We hope you give some of these activities a try!