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Chemistry Outreach Program Encourages Fifth-Graders

A student mentor shows a fifth-grader how to create a brass alloy that turns a penny gold. (Photo Credit: Spencer Bruttig)

By Julie Cohen

Ann Marie Galbraith’s class could barely contain themselves as they got off the bus. Their destination: UC Santa Barbara and the lab used for the chemistry department’s Fifth-Grade Outreach Program. The students, from Santa Barbara’s Monroe Elementary School, were primed by their own school’s science fair, which took place a week before their visit to UCSB.

Ecstatic was the word Galbraith used to describe the students’ enthusiasm. “The type of hands-on experience they get in a UCSB lab is just priceless. It cannot be recreated in a classroom or in a science lab at an elementary school,” she said.

The lab hosting the students contains five stations, each focusing on a different aspect of chemistry: dry ice, combustion, liquid nitrogen, alloys and polar versus nonpolar interactions. For combustion, the activities included lighting methane bubbles and trying to burn a dollar bill dipped in alcohol and water.

The alloys station was a student favorite. There, the fifth-graders made a brass alloy from copper and zinc.

Another station favored by the fifth-graders was liquid nitrogen, where they learned about liquids, solids and gases.

UCSB’s Fifth-Grade Chemistry Outreach Program, now in its 15th year, is designed to nourish natural curiosity in science and to stimulate an interest in science education. The program focuses on fifth-graders because the California physical science standards for that grade include many advanced and complex scientific concepts grounded in chemistry. These standards provide an opportunity for students to experience creative scientific thinking. More than 1,400 fifth-grade students, teachers and parent volunteers participate in the UCSB program each year.

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