Area sixth-graders attend Chem Expo

By By Frank DiCesare / American Press

More than 2,700 sixth-graders packed the Lake Charles Civic Center on Thursday for the Lake Area Industry Alliance’s 14th

annual Chemistry Expo, where they got a hands-on look at how chemistry affects our lives in the products we use every day.

Engineers and scientists from 20 LAIA-member companies set up more than 70 booths where children participated in experiments

that taught them about the science behind polymers, rheology, surfactants, and acids and bases.

“This is the age when kids think things

are cool,” said Crystal Briscoe, LAIA member company representative.

“So if you can

get them interested at this age, you’ll spark something in them

that they will carry with them. With this expo, we’re relating

children with professional adults in the sciences.”

Phoenix Sconzert-Hall, a senior

chemistry and sociology major at McNeese State University, volunteered

his time at a Sasol

booth to show students how the surfactants in laundry detergent

break down surface tension. He asked each student to lower

a paperclip on a piece of paper into a small container of water.

Because of the surface tension in the water, the paperclip

floated on the top.

He then gave each student an eyedropper and asked them to add a drop of laundry detergent to the water. When the drops were

added the paperclip sank to the bottom of the container.

Sconzert-Hall said he plans to study organic chemistry in graduate school to become a professor. He attended the expo as a

sixth-grader and credited the event as a “great help” in inspiring him to study chemistry.

“This event exposed me to a greater

understanding of science than I had; it really showed me what you can do

with science,”

he said. “Being exposed to the industry really taught me to

question the world around me; it built this desire in me to understand

something greater about everything I see. Chemistry does that.”

Joe Andrepont, community affairs

representative at Westlake Chemical Corp., taught a group of more than

400 students about

how evaporation takes place inside a cooling tower, with a

scaled-down model. He also taught students that the steam emitted

at the top of cooling tower is nothing more than evaporated water

and not pollution.

“I see enthusiasm in these kids and an eagerness to learn,” he said. “It kind of gives me goosebumps. They’re excited. When

a child is excited and they’re learning at the same time it’s a winning combination.”

Andrepont’s presentation was followed

by Fred Schweighardt, an engineer at Air Liquide, who demonstrated to

students the freezing

effects liquid nitrogen has on a flower, a racquetball and a raw


Schweighardt, who performed as “Dr. Freeze,” also showed students how liquid nitrogen, cooled to minus-320 degrees Fahrenheit,

can draw a hard-boiled egg into a glass flask by reducing the pressure inside the flask.

“When you’re little like that, extreme is where it’s at,” he said. “They don’t want about minus-6 in my freezer. They want

to hear about minus-320. That’s why we’re hear with the cool stuff and not the boring stuff.”

Students also conducted experiments making polymers with Elmer’s glue and sodium tetraborate, with Terry Rings, a chemical

engineer at LyondellBasell. At the Phillips 66/Citgo booth, students learned about rheology, the science of how materials

flow, with a jar of cornstarch mixed with water, another filled with ketchup, and a third that contained cornstarch.

Nancy Tower, Sasol’s North American operations training and communications manager, said the expo makes chemistry fun for

students by demystifying a lot of chemical terms.

“We teach kids that it’s the surfactant

that actually cleans your clothes,” she said. “But (the expo) also

gives them a broader

understanding of what makes up life as well. So whether they go

into the sciences is their choice. But to have a basic understanding

of something like chemistry is very important. We’re not just

seeing the future workforce here. These are our kids.”