At the Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (BCCE) in Notre Dame this summer, Holly Walter-Kerby and Maria Gallardo-Williams unveiled an event called The Mole. According to Walter-Kerby, inspiration for The Mole stems from the popular storytelling event called The Moth that is featured on NPR radio. The Mole at Notre Dame consisted of several teachers of chemistry taking a few minutes to tell a story about life in the classroom. I was invited by Walter-Kerby and Gallardo-Williams to speak at the inaugural session of The Mole at BCCE 2018, and it was a real honor to participate in this incredible event.
I told the story of how one of my students discovered how to make marshmallows spark in the microwave oven. I went on to describe how we made sense of the sparking phenomenon, and how the process of his discovery and our work together contributed to transforming the way I think about teaching chemistry.
In the video below you can see how to get a marshmallow to spark in the microwave, and also how we think the sparking phenomenon occurs.
The sparking marshmallow phenomenon ends up being a good way to demonstrate the fact that sugar contains carbon, and also that graphite is a good conductor.
Due to its success and popularity at its debut, I’m pretty sure we’ll see additional runnings of The Mole at future BCCE meetings. I hope to hear your story in Oregon in 2020!
Acknowledgement: A huge thank you to David Welch, who first observed that charred marshmallows spark when microwaved, and who also helped to determine possible causes for how it did so.