I had a conversation with a college freshman after church last Sunday. She had recently wrapped up her first semester’s courses, which included chemistry. I asked what she thought of the class. What would you predict her response to be? It was, “I’m glad there are people out there like you who like chemistry,” but it wasn’t for her. She had survived it, and it was done.
Is chemistry ever “done” in our lives? Is there something missing if there isn’t some connection felt between chemistry and some of the things we encounter as an everyday citizen of the world? Our brief conversation made my digital run through the January 2016 issue of the Journal of Chemical Education that much more focused on articles that relate chemistry to the world around us.
The first to catch my eye was pretty much a given, based on the first part of the title Chemistry and Art in a Bag: An Easy-To-Implement Outreach Activity Making and Painting with a Copper-Based Pigment. Even in their first sentence, the authors state, “Increased emphasis has been placed on interdisciplinary activities that aim at engaging students by making the scientific activities exciting and relevant to their everyday life.” Art is the perfect medium, if you will. The activity uses materials readily available at grocery stores and art supply stores. Participants prepare the pigment malachite by mixing reactants in a zip-seal plastic bag, then mix the pigment with three paint binders: gum Arabic, egg yolk, and linseed oil. They can attempt to paint with the results. The activity is easy-to-implement, but the discussions about it could cover many different topics, at varying levels, depending on the participant. The authors mention reactions, solubility rules, nomenclature, and physical states. Such an activity could lead to a collaborative painting project. Ideas for additional pigments are in the JCE Classroom Activity Pigments of Your Imagination: Making Artist’s Paints.
When I think of connections between chemistry and art, they are more often the science of the techniques used, such as papermaking, or preparing a fresco, or as in the activity above, the pigments and binders used in a paint. The article Chemistry and Explosives: An Approach to a Topic through an Artistic and Historical Contribution Made by a Spanish Global Explosives Supplier made a new connection for me. The authors focus on what is portrayed in the paintings themselves: “This article goes beyond paints to paintings, exploring how particular artistic products of painting, used for over a hundred years by Maxam in advertising calendars, can be used to spark students’ thinking about the explosives industry in particular and, in some way, chemistry in general.” Two ways to capture student interest—art plus explosives. Take a virtual tour of the more than 100 paintings and see what jumps out at you. You’ll also see one on the cover of this issue. The authors give starting points for a wide selection of activities and discussions for middle school, high school, and first-year college students.
Try one and let us know at the Xchange how it went. You might be the one to prompt the comment, “I’m glad there are people out there who like chemistry—including me.”
For the entire issue, see Mary Saecker’s JCE 93.01—January issue highlights.
Idea Exchange at the ChemEd Xchange
What are your thoughts on this month’s issue? If you see an article that sparks your interest in this month’s table of contents or any article in the “Articles ASAP (As Soon As Publishable)” tab on the JCE home page, please share! Contributors can submit an article or a “Pick” or even simply comment on this post. Submit a request to contribute, explaining you’d like to contribute to the Especially JCE column. Questions? Contact us using the XChange’s contact form.