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MCCC Student Volunteers Stir Up Magic at Elementary Schools During National Chemistry Week


West Windsor, N.J. - Twenty-five Mercer County Community College students made science just a little more real - and fun - for some 650 children at five area elementary schools during National Chemistry Week, held Oct. 17-21. The annual program is coordinated by MCCC Associate Chemistry Professor Helen Tanzini, with funding provided by the Trenton Section of the American Chemical Society.

Says Tanzini, "We share our passion for chemistry with excited young minds - who may be the scientists of the future. And, we have so much fun. It's great for the youngsters, who look forward to the visit by their special guests, and it's a wonderful leadership experience for our students, who present and explain the experiments."

With the theme of "Chemistry: Our Health, Our Future," Mercer students carried out as many as six experiments, some that were demonstrations and others that gave the children a chance for hands-on interaction. The activities related to health and wellness, including one that emphasized the importance of hand washing by using ultraviolet light to expose the germs on a toy frog that had been passed around the room and another that illustrated how acid is neutralized by antacid products typically used for indigestion. Also on the schedule were "magic bubbles" - regular bubbles treated with polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) that make them firm and long-lasting, just like microbes that can spread colds when children cough and do not cover their mouths.

The grand finale was the creation of "slime," a mix of PVA and borax detergent. With the addition of glitter, the children were able to visualize the slime as mucus in the nose, a polymer of protein and sugar that occurs naturally in the body, trapping germs, pollen and mold spores just like the slime traps the glitter. The youngsters were invited to take home their cup of slime as a science souvenir.

It's slime! Dutch Neck teacher Jeff Grabell, left, with MCCC students Jerry Abu-Wright and Diana Compito.
MCCC science students on the road, from left, Navneet Kaur, students Amira Khan, Merriam Gul, Ashleigh Donaldson, Angelia Szwed, Jerry Amu-Wright, Lauren Cohn and Diana Compito. Pictured in the back row are Associate Professor of Chemistry Helen Tanzini, left, and MCCC alum Rocco Gervasi, right.

Tanzini notes that behind each "wow"-producing experiment are solid scientific principles. "We try to give the children the behind-the-scenes explanations of what makes these materials behave the way they do. We also relate the results to real life, so that they come away with a better understanding of how the world around them works."

According to Tanzini, year after year, her students consistently come forward to volunteer for this worthwhile project. "We can see the lights going off in the children's eyes and feel the enthusiasm we are generating. It makes the effort worth it." She adds that her volunteers also helped with the time-consuming preparation process, which included a full day on the Saturday prior to Chemistry Week. They received administrative support from MCCC's Barb Pieslak, Alexandra Popescu and Shakita Johnson.

Also participating were MCCC faculty members Laura Blinderman, Jing Huang, Carlo Alfare and Ron Russell. Two Rider faculty members, Bruce Burnham and Bryan Spiegelberg, took part, as well as two graduate students from Princeton University. MCCC alumnus Rocky Gervasi ('05), who recently completed his doctorate in Physical Therapy, never misses the chance to return to his Mercer roots to participate.

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