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Open Lab Day Shows Students the Magic of Chemistry

Photo by Cassie Prettyman

YCHEM Open Lab Day 2017

Click. Clink. Clack. In one lab, elementary students crushed spinach leaves with mortars and pestles to extract the green chlorophyll; in another lab, high school students stirred precipitates in small beakers.

Then came the hiss of evaporating liquid nitrogen and the boom of a hydrogen gas explosion.

Volunteers from BYU’s student chapter of the American Chemical Society, Y Chem, hosted Open Lab Day on May 6, 2017. High school, junior high, and elementary school students came to the labs of the Ezra Taft Benson Building to practice useful chemistry techniques while seeing just how cool chemistry can be.

Kimberlee Larsen, a biochemistry student and member of Y Chem, helped middle school students titrate acids drop by drop until the clear solution turned blue. Larsen sees volunteering at events like Open Lab Day as an opportunity to get students as excited about chemistry as she is.

“I enjoyed volunteering at the different activities because I really like working with students and helping them like chemistry as much as I do,” Larsen said. “Chemistry is awesome!”

One parent present, Dave Allgrunn, was excited to expose his three young children to hands-on science.

“Most homes probably aren’t equipped to do a lot of the stuff they’ll do here today, so [it’s] kind of a rare chance to get to do some hands-on experiments,” Allgrunn said.


His children have a late grandfather who was chemist, and Allgrun saw the event as a chance to introduce his children to their grandfather’s legacy.

“[It’s] an awesome thing, with BYU so close, to get exposed to what chemistry is, to sciency kinds of stuff,” he said.

Dr. David Michaelis, a biochemistry professor, is Y Chem’s faculty advisor. As such, he supervises Open Lab Day, but he trusts the Y Chem students to orchestrate a great event.

“Yes, I’m the advisor, but I kind of let [Y Chem members] spearhead this and take it on themselves and put it together and decide on the experiments,” he said.

A father himself, Michaelis takes advantage of these opportunities to educate his own children.

“I try to [involve my kids] as much as I can,” Michaelis said. “We do a lot of chemistry, they come to a lot of my magic shows and things.”


Besides being Y Chem’s faculty advisor, Michaelis is also Y Chem’s resident magician. After the students were treated to ice cream flash-frozen with liquid nitrogen, Michaelis demonstrated all the exciting things chemists at BYU get to do in a “chemistry magic show.”

First, Michaelis handed a nine-year-old a flamethrower to explode a Y-shaped arrangement of balloons filled with hydrogen gas. The shockwave and heat could be felt all the way up to the back row of the auditorium, and the children roared their approval. Michaelis continued the show by crushing a heavy can with the room’s air pressure, blowing up balloon animals from the outside, instantly metabolizing a Swedish Fish in a test tube, and creating a tornado made of fire­—or, as the kids called it, a “fire-nado.”

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