Twenty-five eager Gryffindor witches dawned their house colors and crowded around a table of beakers and bottles last Saturday, Sept. 24 during the sunny afternoon. This activity was part of a community outreach program held at Camp Yavneh by UNH’s professional co-ed chemistry fraternity, Alpha Chi Sigma (AXΣ), during which a large number of local girl scouts was educated on science related topics.
AXΣ is made up of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors and organizes all sorts of community and campus outreach programs. Once a month, AXΣ visits local elementary schools to run demonstrations for classes. They also provide general chemistry tutoring around the UNH campus. Their program with Camp Yavneh was one of their biggest yet however, and took much more planning and preparation than their usual programs.
Located in Northwood, Camp Yavneh is a residential, Jewish camp. This past weekend, the camp hosted a three-day Harry Potter Camporee for over 100 Girl Scouts of America members, whose ages ranged from six to 17. The girls were broken up into four groups of 25 with names based off the Hogwarts Houses featured in the Harry Potter series: Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Gryffindor. Each house also had a prefect and head girl. If you know anything about the wizarding world of Harry Potter, you know that these are very prestigious positions. From lessons with Dumbledore’s Army to tea with Professor Umbridge, each group had their fair share of opportunities to earn points for their house.
AXΣ joined the girls on Saturday from 9 a.m.–5 p.m. for a day full of “Potions Class with Professor Severus Snape.” Each house rotated through Camp Yavneh’s Gottesman Family Community Center for 90-minute potion sessions with AXΣ members. Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw had their science lessons before lunch, while Gryffindor and Slytherin had theirs afterward. Each session started with a four-part chemistry demonstration. The first session was focused on lab safety. Surprisingly enough, the girls were just as excited and quick to answer questions in this session as in the more interactive sessions. AXΣ members Bria Frehner, Celeste Souza and Amanda Tellier stressed the importance of wearing safety gear, such as goggles and gloves, and knowing how to handle unknown substances.
Frehner, a senior biomedical science major, and Souza, a junior biomedical science and medical microbiology major, took the stage first. The Gryffindor girls “oohed” and “awed” as they mixed hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide with pH indicators. They selected volunteers from the crowd to come stir the mixture and cause it to turn every color of the rainbow. “It’s been super impressive what some of these girls know at this age,” Frehner said.
Senior chemical engineering major Justin Cournoyer was up next to do a presentation. He demonstrated how to form bubbles over beakers with dish soap and the vapor from dry ice. He dropped in food coloring to jazz the experiment up.
Last but not least, Tellier, who attends UNH for a graduate statistics program, suited up in gloves and goggles for her demonstration. The girls started to stand up and move closer to the table as Tellier demonstrated how to make “elephant toothpaste,” showing the catalyzed decomposition of hydrogen peroxide. One girl, wearing a black witches hat, was able to identify an Erlenmeyer flask. “I would’ve never known that at her age,” Tellier said while laughing.
After the three demonstrations, the 25 Gryffindor girls were divided up into five groups of five to conduct their own experiments, such as making “Galaxies in a Bottle” with oil and water and “Oobleck” with water and cornstarch. “The girls were all super receptive and understanding of all of the concepts, which was awesome to see,” Frehner said.
Frehner said she feels that programs like this one are very important, especially if they can get girls more interested in pursuing science in their future. “When I was in middle school I hated science…It’s important to show [the Girl Scouts] that science can be fun,” she said.
Each house was rewarded with points for volunteering, answering questions and completing challenges. At the end of the weekend, points were tallied up and a house winner was identified.