High school students explore the world of chemistry at VU

High school students explore the world of chemistry at VU

Two female students from Rivet High School make an antibiotic in a chemistry lab at Updike Hall.

May 15, 2023

VINCENNES, Ind. - Groups of students grabbed bags of their favorite foods like Fritos, Doritos, Cheetos, BBQ potato chips, and Cheez-Its, then lit the snacks on fire. It was all part of an experiment they were conducting during Chemistry High School Lab Days hosted by the Vincennes University Chemistry Department. By burning snack foods, they were determining the energy given off.

Students from high schools in Indiana and Illinois learned about future science careers plus participated in experiments to build their interest in chemistry during Chemistry High School Lab Days on May 8-12.

Students burning a Dorito in a VU Chemistry Lab 

Chemistry lab days have been an annual event at VU for more than 20 years. High school students have access to cutting-edge technology and facilities. 

“Chemistry High School Lab Days offers an immersive experience for students to explore their passions and interests through college-level chemistry experiments that happen every day,” Chemistry Department Chair and Professor Elizabeth Lowe said. “This event serves as a unique opportunity for hundreds of high school students to engage in hands-on learning and exploration across a variety of chemistry subdisciplines.”

Students engaged in multiple chemistry-focused experiments in labs at Updike Hall - College of Science, Engineering, and Mathematics.

They made an antibiotic named sulfanilamide by organic reactions to prepare the antibiotic that was then put into an agar plate and inoculated with e. coli to see the effect on the growth of the bacteria.

Students conducting iodine clock reaction

In another lab, the students conducted an experiment that was almost like a magic trick. During an iodine clock reaction experiment, they mixed many household chemicals to see how the changing amounts affect the rate of reaction. The end of the reaction is when the colorless solution turns a deep purple color.

Washington Catholic High School junior Addie Talbert was delighted to see science taking place right in front of her.

“I’m so impressed with how new and up-to-date everything is here,” Talbert said. “Making the sulfanilamide was very complicated and very daring, but we did all right because the VU student helped us through it. My favorite part was seeing the crystals form out of just a liquid. It was really fun to apply the science like that.”

Laura Litwiler, a math and science teacher at Washington Catholic High School, said her students liked the challenge of conducting experiments in state-of-the-art college labs, and they talked about the experience for days after. 

“The Chemistry High School Lab Days give a great opportunity for the students to experience labs at a much deeper level,” Litwiler said. “A lot of times in high school labs, there is not enough time or resources to do in-depth labs and experiments. This gives an opportunity for the students to dive deeper into the experiments. I also love that it shows our students the many different applications of chemistry in the world.”

Students making silly putty in a VU Physics Lab

The students had a lot of fun participating in a variety of activities. They learned about polymers through a balloon experiment where they were taught how to thread a large needle through it without popping it. They discovered the chemistry of silly putty by making it themselves. Students also learned the chemistry behind making clear glass bottles look as if they are silver.

“It is so cool to have these experiences in a cool lab when you come from a small town community,” Flora (Illinois) High School junior Sam Mosbarger said. “Coming to a bigger facility at a university is something cool to experience.”

Flora (Illinois) High School junior Madyson Slover was in her absolute element since she has aspirations of becoming a research chemist or pursuing a career in chemical engineering.

“I enjoyed the experiments and being with a group that actually cares about chemistry,” Slover said. “It’s fun to see people who are willing to habilitate the excitement that people have for chemistry.”

In addition to putting on their goggles and becoming chemists for the day, students gained insight into the college experience. They interacted with current VU students and were introduced to the many opportunities available at VU.

“We believe Chemistry High School Lab Days have a lasting impact on students, helping them to make informed decisions about their future academic and professional pursuits,” Lowe said.

To learn more about VU’s Chemistry majors, explore HERE

See a Photo Gallery of Chemistry High School Lab Days

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