SDSC Chemist Participates in Magnolia Elementary School Science Day

SDSC computational chemist Kim Baldridge was one of nearly 40 scientists and researchers who conducted science workshops March 6 for groups of 4th and 5th graders at Magnolia Elementary School in Carlsbad, a city in northern San Diego County.

The students chose to attend four of the 40 workshops offered. Popular topics included fetal pig dissection, volcano construction, rocket launching, ice cream and candy making, acid-base chemistry, and Baldridge's marshmallow molecule building.

"My goal was to teach them about molecules and atomic structure, which is difficult at that grade level," Baldridge said. "I used a fairy tale to capture their attention, which introduced them to concepts like physical and chemical properties." Baldridge also showed the students the animated film Card Trick, created by SDSC animator/artist Robert H. Russ, as a way to introduce them to supercomputers and the work done at the center.

To get the students involved in chemistry, Baldridge first used the students themselves to make human models of simple molecules like water and oxygen gas. Students would hold hands to represent single, double, and even triple chemical bonds. (Triple bonds required the students to use their legs as well.) Next, Baldridge showed more complicated structures, including graphite, diamond, and buckyballs, using ball-and-stick molecules she had constructed ahead of time.

For the hands-on segment of the workshop, Baldridge let the students build molecules out of marshmallows and toothpicks. The marshmallows came in four colors, representing four different atoms -- carbon (orange), nitrogen (green), oxygen (red), and hydrogen (yellow). Baldridge also gave them diagrams of three common molecules that are composed of those four atoms -- vitamin C, aspirin, and caffeine.

"Once the students had their hands busy, they really got into their tasks," Baldridge said. "The part they liked best, though, was that after I looked at their molecules, they could eat them."

Copyright 1997 SDSCwire.