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Stewartsville students get hands-on chemistry lesson via Carnegie program

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Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, 4:41 a.m.

Stewartsville Elementary fourth-graders got a hands-on look at chemical reactions through a Carnegie Science Center program on Thursday.

The program, Chemistry in a Bag, was presented by the center's Science on the Road department's staff educator Casey Miskimmin and program presenter Erica Tamorria.

Students experimented with the chemical compounds of baking soda and calcium chloride, and catalyst phenol red in the school's science lab.

“You'll make excellent chemists,” Miskimmin told students.

Students carefully measured the compounds, wrote their observations and predictions of the reactions, and the end results. The chemicals were mixed separately and then together for three different exercises.

“Scientists have to be very precise when they measure,” Miskimmin instructed.

She taught students about safety techniques such as wafting, or lightly and smoothly moving air, to gauge the smell of chemicals.

“You never stick your nose into a chemical of any sort and take a big whiff of it,” Miskimmin said. “It could really damage your nose and smelling receptors.”

Ben Jackson and Alex Gabauer, both 10 and from North Huntingdon Township, partnered for the experiments. Ben held the bags with baking soda and calcium chloride while Alex poured in the catalyst.

“I thought it was really cool because the reactions were just crazy,” Alex said.

“The exothermic (reaction) means that it's hot and it releases heat, and the endothermic (reaction) absorbs heat and feels cold,” Ben said. “(I liked the experiments) a lot.”

Both Ben and Alex said they will look into more science experiments when they get older.

The baking soda and calcium chloride turned pinkish purple when added separately to the phenol red, showing they were a base, or basic chemical compound. The mixture turned yellow when all three were mixed in the same bag, and that combination showed both hot and cold results.

“I thought it was really fun and exciting,” said Shain Mosqueda, 10, of North Huntingdon Township. “(What) I learned about mixing chemicals is that sometimes chemicals can make beautiful colors, make warm and make cold. I would love to do (more experiments).”

Chemistry in a Bag was brought to Norwin School District through a grant.

“It's a very hands-on approach to chemistry,” Miskimmin said. “As long as it's hands-on (students) love it, and plus you're making colors and temperature changes. They did really well. They were awesome. I would say that they go with a better knowledge of what exactly chemistry is, and different reactions that can occur when you are mixing chemicals together.”

Science teacher Laura Whalen helped coordinate the visit.

“I thought it was absolutely fabulous,” Whalen said. “A free program offered to Westmoreland County schools, and definitely a great program to take advantage of. All the different experiments they got to do were definitely more meaningful than just doing a paper-and-pencil activity ... This definitely ties into our curriculum.”

Carnegie Science Center presenters are expected to return to Stewartsville on Feb. 12 for a school-wide assembly called Fire and Ice.

More information about Carnegie Science Center programs is available online at

Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or



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