June 20, 2018
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USM student chemists: ‘The bigger the boom, the more fun we have’

By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Nearly 100 Portland area children gathered in Deering Oaks Park Thursday just after noon to… learn more about chemical science?

The course load was perhaps best exemplified by Kari Picard, one of many to take a turn narrating the event: “We’re going to show you some balloons exploding and then we’re going to tell you why they’re exploding.”

Picard is a member of the University of Southern Maine’s Chemistry Club, which travels to schools and venues around the area in hopes of sparking — literally — enthusiasm for science among children.

During their performance Thursday, the USM students showed off substances ranging in temperature from minus 321 degrees to 3,000 degrees, respectively freezing and shattering toys using billowing clouds of liquid nitrogen, then combining rust and magnesium to produce piping hot molten iron.

Perhaps most popular among the young attendees, however, were the explosions. Those balloons Picard warned about? They were mostly filled with hydrogen, oxygen, both or — and this was the biggest “bang” of all — a whole lot of both.

“We at USM are firm believers in ‘The bigger the boom, the more fun we have,’” junior Zachary Chopchinski, vice president of the club, told the crowd of children, many of whom shrieked with anticipation as he lit off a string of increasingly loud balloon bombs. Or maybe “ballombs,” for short.

After the demonstration, Chopchinski told the Bangor Daily News the club aims to make science fun for kids using some of the things kids like best.

“Children enjoy a lot of the [chemical] reactions,” he said. “They love the booms, bangs and fires, and then we explain to them the science.”

Added club president Layla Venturini, also a USM junior: “They’ll remember the science, because they’ll think back and say, ‘Oh, yeah, that makes an explosion.’”

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