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Lehigh chemical engineers share knowledge with area middle school students

Have you ever heard of "elephant toothpaste?" If not, it may be time to head back to middle school.

The eighth grade students of Broughal Middle School were treated to a recent visit by Lehigh University's student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) to learn about science through interactive demonstrations in chemistry and engineering.

"AIChE received a grant from ExxonMobil for $1,250 to be used to host an outreach event," explained AIChE member Samantha Schmidt ’13. "We ... decided that if we worked specifically with Broughal, we could create ties between the chemical engineering department and the science teachers at Broughal, and create a more personalized and hands-on experience for the students."

The event's purpose was to perform scaled-down experiments and teach the students how chemical engineers take those experiments and related them to the real world.

Among the experiments included creating the afformentioned substance dubbed "elephant toothpaste," where the AIChE members assisted Broughal students in combining soap, water, hydrogen peroxide and potassium iodide in a graduated cyclnder to create an oxygen gas. The mixing of the ingredients resulted in a group of bubbles packed together to form a dense foam.

AIChE member Sean Hoenig '14 stressed the importance of outreach programs like the visit to Broughal in extending "our knowledge and enthusiasm to them so that we’ll continually have a next generation of STEM professionals ... Perhaps a few of the kids will take something from the event and look to pursue a STEM related career one day in college."

"We wanted the students to walk away with a better understanding of STEM fields and chemical engineering, in particular," Schmidt said. "We also wanted to learn from the students through their interactions and questions. Teaching is the best way to learn."

Lehigh's 2012-13 AIChE student chapter was led by chapter president Kristen Becht. Professor Mark Snyder serves as faculty advisor to the group.

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Sean Hoenig '14

Lehigh AIChE member Sean Hoenig '14 (standing) works with students during an event at Broughal Middle School.