Stuck on science at the Columbus Center National Chemistry Week offers learning, fun

November 03, 1997|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Science can be a lot of gooey, messy fun.

That's what visitors to the Columbus Center in Baltimore learned yesterday as they queued up to make red, blue and green "slime" in the name of chemistry.

As part of National Chemistry Week, which began yesterday, the center and the Maryland chapter of the American Chemical Society joined forces for a "Get-Your-Hands-On-Science" day, designed to emphasize the importance of chemistry in the marine world and the fun of it.

"Think of polyvinyl alcohol as a million little bits of spaghetti," said Towson University chemistry Professor Mark Greenburg as he squirted the chemical into small cups for a rapt audience. "Now we're going to stick all those strands together with something called sodium borate."

As promised, the combination soon produced a gelatinous, oozing substance -- and some mixed reactions.

"It was pretty cool, but after I start stirring it, it was like, 'Yuck!' " said Heather Smith, a 9-year-old from Silver Spring.

Jeremy Perrin, 6, of Hunt Valley pronounced his concoction "cool," but said: "I don't really know what we can do with this slime."

Actually, natural slime -- known more formally as biofilm -- makes the marine world go around, adapting surfaces so other organisms can attach to them, said Alberto Ramirez, director of public programs for the Columbus Center's Hall of Exploration. "It's slimy, but it's good for the environment," he said.

Slime wasn't the only chemical attraction of the day.

Visitors tested water for hardness and logged their results on an Internet site for a national experiment. They rubbed radishes on filter paper, then added drops of vinegar, lemon juice and soapy water to learn how to identify acids and bases. They picked up test strips to study how the calcium carbonate in seashells can temper the acidity of vinegar.

"They like it because they can touch things," said volunteer Jamea Christian. "They want to try all of them."

Ramirez said he hoped chemistry week activities would draw visitors to the Columbus Center, which has had lower attendance than expected in its first four months of operation, while getting children excited about science.

The "Get-Your-Hands-On-Science" program will be repeated tomorrow at Columbus Center from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The activities are free with admission to the Hall of Exploration.

The event is one of a number of programs sponsored by the Maryland section of the American Chemical Society. Next month, the group will arrange for teachers around the state to join scientists in their labs for "Chemical Bonding Day." Those interested in participating in the Dec. 4 event may call Dr. Frank Milio at 410-830-3111.

Pub Date: 11/03/97

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