Sowing the Seeds of Science

“On the third day of Christmas, my mailman brought to me… three gardening catalogs.” Jumping the gun? Or marketing genius? The doldrums after the holiday were a perfect time for these pages with their promise of spring. Their arrival kicked off an evening of grand plans. Somewhere along the line, chemistry crept in.

We mapped out favorite seeds to fill our home garden. We also looked forward to the return of the weekly farmers’ market for an even wider selection to the bounty, even though its June start time is awhile down the road.

That night brought a flash as I was falling asleep. A flash of garden mixed with chemistry with community. Could the local farmers’ market be an opportunity to sow the seeds of science?

The market offers non-profit groups the chance to have their own booth for free alongside those selling fruits, vegetables, flowers, and more. What about a booth focused on science related to gardening and the outdoors? Both adults and children are typically at the market and might enjoy a short hands-on activity or demo. Then, a handout to take home as an encouragement to learn more.

First to mind was a recent inhabitant of our refrigerator—red cabbage. It would be easy to show how it and other natural products work as indicators, using JCE Classroom Activity #2 Anthocyanins: A Colorful Class of Compounds as a handout. The activity gives enough detail to try additional indicators at home to test household materials. What else? A quick runthrough of the list of JCE Classroom Activities yields more seeds of science, enough to share a new activity for multiple weeks. We could:

#78—Soil Testing: Dig In!
Take a closer look at soil along with testing its pH.

#60—Water Filtration
Use a water filtration column made of gravel, sand, and activated charcoal.

#22—Colors to Dye for: Preparation of Natural Dyes
Look at items to use as sources of natural dyes, like onion skins and blueberries. 

#30—Cabbage Patch Chemistry
Learn about the chemical fermentation of vegetables.

#36—Putting UV-Sensitive Beads to the Test
Use ultraviolet detecting beads to remind us about protecting our skin when we’re outside.

#17—Soup or Salad? Investigating the Action of Enzymes in Fruit on Gelatin
Explore what happens when certain fresh fruit is used with gelatin.

#50—Acid Raindrops Keep Fallin’ in My Lake
Consider how different solids in a lake can have an effect on its pH.

#53—Apple Fool! An Introduction to Artificial Flavors
Try to fool our taste buds in an attempt to recreate the flavor of cooked apples.

#86—Cooking Up Colors from Plants, Fabric, and Metal
Visit the flower garden as a source of dyes, with a twist provided by cast iron cookware.

Next up—how to make it happen, with funding for supplies and a possible source of volunteers. One idea is to write it up as an ACS ChemClub community activities grant application. I’ve been mulling over the idea of reactivating our homeschool group’s ChemClub now that a new crop of students is aging up into the high school years. Active ChemClubs can receive up to $300 to help them share chemistry in their communities. It might also be an idea for outreach through the new classical elementary school where I’ve been teaching science this school year. The students themselves could help with sharing the science. It’s a good time to start planting some seeds!