American Chemical Society presents BIG ideas

Robyn McNeil, Staff Writer

Students performed experiments and learned about nanotechnology when FMU’s chapter of the American Chemical Society (ACS) presented “Nanotechnology: The Smallest Big Idea in Science” in honor of National Chemistry Week on Wednesday, Oct. 24th.

Held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the front lawn of the Founders Hall building, the event was open to students of all majors.

National Chemistry Week has been observed by the ACS since 1986. Each year the organization celebrates a different development in the field of chemistry.  This year the ACS has chosen to highlight the progress and developments in nanotechnology, the engineering and use of materials at the atomic and molecular levels.

ACS President Yana Sivolobova, a senior majoring in chemistry, explained that the mission of ACS is to raise awareness about the importance of chemistry and the role that it plays in daily life.

According to Sivolobova, the ACS wanted to provide students with interactive activities so that they could observe the effects of nanotechnology firsthand and better understand its importance.

“Students will have an opportunity to perform simple, amusing experiments and learn how what they have observed applies to health, environment, energy and materials,” Sivolobova said.

Students experimented with common nanotechnology products, such as sunscreen and hydrogel.  However, they also worked with less common materials, like Space Sand and ferrofluid, which were developed by NASA to replicate and contend with conditions in space.

The sunscreen activity tested the effects of prolonged sun exposure and illustrated how the chemicals in sunscreen prevent sunburn and skin cancer.  Chemicals contained in sunscreen, such as oxybenzone and zinc oxide, absorb or reflect cancer-causing ultraviolet (UV) radiation that is emitted from the sun.  Sunscreens with higher concentrations of these Sun Protection Factors (SPFs) are more equipped to prevent the harmful effects UV rays.

While experimenting with hydrogel, a chemical capable of attracting and absorbing large amounts of water, students learned how it is used in products, such as potting soil and diapers.

Lastly, students observed how water interacts with Space Sand and ferrofluids.  Space Sand is similar to the type of soil found on Mars, and it is incapable of getting wet because it does not absorb water.  NASA developed Space Sand to better understand why Mars has dry and dusty environmental conditions.

A ferrofluid is a magnetic fluid that can control the flow of water and other liquids in space.  NASA most commonly uses ferrofluids to manage and sustain the flow of spacecraft fuels.

ASC Co-president Regina Blackman, a senior majoring in chemistry, expressed that the overall goal of the presentation was to raise awareness about the impact and capabilities of science.

“We are all impacted by science in ways that we do not realize,” Blackman said.  “ACS aims to further the idea of science in people’s minds.”

The university’s chapter of the ACS is comprised of students who are majoring in the fields of chemistry and biology.  The chapter works to provide chemistry majors and the general student population with a better understanding of the purpose and effects of chemical research.

“Our goal is to promote the value of chemistry in everyday life by demonstrating how new developments shape our modern society,” Sivolobova said.