West Windsor, N.J. – As the spring semester draws to a close, students at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) have been busy preparing for final exams.
Nowhere is this preparation more intense than for students taking Honors Organic Chemistry, one of the most challenging courses offered at Mercer. So “orgo” students had a nice change of pace in one of their final lab assignments was to turn science into art.
According to Professor of Chemistry Helen Tanzini, synthetic dyes were discovered in the late 1800’s and are used as dyes for clothing, food, biological stains and acid-base indicators. The experiment presented to the students required them to create azo dyes in a fume hood by combining two chemical components. The result is brilliant colors.
“They created a variety of dyes, including Azo Violet, an acid-base indicator that changes from yellow to violet when a basic solution is added to it,” Tanzini said. “They also made Sudan Orange and Para Red, the shade of red used in the American flag.”
After testing the mixtures repeatedly until they arrived at their desired intensity of color, the students then dyed a piece of fabric. As they worked with the fabric, the experiment took an artistic turn, using an ingrain dying process to create a design.
“The dye is created inside the cotton fibers and the large dye molecules are trapped within the fibers, resulting in a permanent dye,” Tanzini explained.
She notes that the various dyes interact with the cotton fibers in ways that are sometimes unexpected. "Whatever the outcome, students have a great time with this experiment. It’s a chance for them to get creative. Their final designs are usually quite colorful and impressive,” Tanzini said.