Explore Kent Chemistry Day encourages prospective students


Chemistry students Bogdan Benin and Nick Onuska preform a demonstration for Kent Chemistry Day, Feb. 6, 2016.

Ariel Reid

Kent State’s chemistry department staged a series of entertaining and educational chemistry acts in Williams Hall from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday for students thinking about attending Kent State.

Hearing the phrase, “Don’t look directly at the magnesium, it could blind you,” isn’t something one would expect to hear in a giant lecture hall hosting an audience of high-schoolers and their families.

A blow torch scorching its blue-white flame into a hunk of metal or a slab of dry ice dropped on top of burning magnesium were also some of the spectacles at the event.

With the exception of the young chemistry-minded students watching this experiment, most people probably wouldn’t know that this reaction can cause the materials to flare up in a brilliant flash of white light and a plume of smoke.

The event, called Explore Kent Chemistry Day, has been a yearly experience for at least 15 years, said Michael Tubergen, the chemistry department chair. It started with just ten people and has grown to the 175-person event it is today.

Students came from all across Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and even as far as New York, North Carolina and Minnesota to attend the event.

“It’s really designed to attract people here,” Tubergen said.

The chemistry department worked with the admissions center to advertise the event to high school juniors and seniors, but some of the registered students were already Kent students interested in changing majors.

Catherine Slapnicker, the senior secretary in the undergraduate office, handled the registration and event planning for Kent Chemistry Day. She described all the students attending as ‘prospective undergrads.’

The students and their parents spent their day in a large, auditorium-style classroom with long, curved desks and swiveling chairs. With schedules, pamphlets and notebooks in hand, the crowd looked ready to attend a college lecture.

Despite imitating the kind of setup the students can expect in their first year at Kent State, the presentations by Tubergen and fellow professors Paul Sampson and Robert Twieg combatted the idea of science being dry and boring. All the presentations were full of humor, animation and enthusiasm for chemistry.

The entire chemistry department collaborated on the event, according to Slapnicker, but Kent State’s chemistry majors concocted the most excitement of the day: the experiments.

Attendees were treated to four demonstrations by members of Kent State’s Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society (SAACS), who were decked out in safety goggles, white lab coats and bright blue gloves. The experiments were chosen to be ‘visually exciting’ and designed to ‘get the attention of the students,’ according to SAACS Co-Advisor Erin Michael.

Michael said that SAACS didn’t want to just pick flashy demonstrations, but also wanted to encourage audience participation and engagement.

Gummy bears sparked and steamed in heated test tubes.

Dry ice and magnesium burned and smoldered in blinding whites and oranges from inside a fume hood.

A glowing, blue luminol solution, poured from long-necked flasks into a funnel, swirled down a length of plastic tubing into a huge beaker.

Methane bubbles, following a countdown from the audience, were ignited to create a fistful of fire inside the hands of a SAACS student.

The facilities inside Williams Hall were spotlighted with an illustration of 3-D technologies used inside the classroom, and a tour of the building’s various labs showed off the best of what chemistry can offer these prospective students.

Jade Johnson and Brooke Harper sat at a table eating the lunch provided by Kent Chemistry Day organizers after their tour.

Johnson, a high school junior, said she wants to go to a ‘science school.’ While Harper, a senior already accepted to Kent State, said that she’s keeping her options open but wanted to take a day out to consider chemistry.

Another high school junior, Kaitlyn Dewell, from Columbiana is already taking classes from Kent State’s Salem branch. After she graduates from high school, Dewell wants to study analytical and organic chemistry.

Dewell was happy to have participated in the luminol experiment, as she said she also recently performed it at her high school. This time was different though, not only because she was doing it in a college classroom, but also because she was just doing it for fun.

She added that the presentations given at the event were useful to her.

Tubergen wants more students, like Dewell, to consider chemistry when they come to Kent State — not just because it’s important.

“It’s cool and it’s fun,” said Tubergen. “And we enjoy it.”

Ariel Reid is the sciences reporter for The Kent Stater, contact her at [email protected]