MC(2) program inspires young scientists


Bobby Souders ’15 (Winter Park, Fla.) kept it cool as a small group of fourth graders sidled their desks around his.

As the 10-year-olds chatted up a storm about the brightly colored liquids and two forms of salt he set out before him, the biochemistry major patiently waited for a brief pause in their conversations before he began directing them in their experiments.

“We’ve been learning about chemical changes and physical changes,” says Dr. Kevin Pate, who brought five Marietta College students to 1978 and 2006 alumna Nan Welch’s fourth-grade science class at Washington School as part of the MC2 program. Kaely Becker ’15 (Brunswick, Ohio), Derek Howe ’15 (Marietta, Ohio), Brandon Stewart ’15 (Delaware, Ohio), Ryan Turnewitsch ’15 (St. Clairsville, Ohio), Rebekah Wood ’15 (Pleasant City, Ohio) and Sounders have volunteered to help Pate with these events on numerous occasions during the past two years.

“When I was asked to take part in MC2, I wanted to use it as an opportunity to get our students involved,” Pate says. “It’s good for them because it allows them to work with young kids and teach them some basic scientific principles. The kids are so enthusiastic about what we do with them, and that enthusiasm is contagious. Perhaps even more importantly, our students can be role models for the elementary school kids, many of whom might never consider going to college without some motivation.”

The collaborative effort between Marietta City Schools and Marietta College received a grant from The Martha Holding Jennings Foundation and is designed to expose local elementary-age children to a variety of fields of science in an interactive setting.

In early April, Souders was in the thick of one such interactive setting.

For the experiments, the children paired up and waited for their mentor’s instructions. Each team carefully measured scoops of salt into Zip-lock baggies, each child taking turns adding components.

Jennifer Smith, 10, knew which job she wanted first, so she allowed her partner to dole out a small amount of calcium chloride into the empty baggie as she eyed the small vial of methyl red.

“My turn,” she says. “How many of this? Is this going to explode? What if I spill it? Is this poisonous? What’s this going to do?”

As she took a breath, Souders smiled and quietly reassured her that nothing was going to explode during any of their experiments but something was definitely going to happen.

Adding five drops of methyl red and 5 milliliters of water to a small test tube, Smith inserted the tube into the bag — carefully keeping it upright and away from the calcium chloride — as her partner bled the air out of the baggie and sealed it.

“I bet it gets hot,” Smith says. “I hope it changes color. It’s gotta change color.”

On the count of three, the groups tipped their tubes into the salt compound.

Souders smiled as he watched the children’s faces became even more animated and their enthusiasm got the better of them. If the goal of MC2 was to inspire children to become excited about science, what took place after the test tubes were tipped started a chain reaction that went well beyond the chemical reaction happening in the bag.

The children surrounding Souders turned into young scientists.

“So, what did you notice?” Souders asked as the children described their observations of the simultaneous experiments.

Josie Jeffers, 10, who stood behind Smith during the reaction, explained that the experiment created a chemical reaction. Before Sounders finished asking why the young scientists thought the reaction was chemical, Smith offered up her list of reasons.

“The bag’s getting bigger. It’s creating air in the bag. The bag is about to pop. It’s fizzing and warm and … listen to it!” Smith says. “Now what will happen if I spill it?”

And with that, the bag was spilled.

“It happens,” Souders says. “It will clean up with a paper towel.”

Within a few minutes, the impromptu lab was cleaned up and the children were ready for the next round of tests.