Environmental Chemistry

Book Suggestion: The Alchemy of Air

One of my goals for 2017 was to read more chemistry non-fiction. I accomplished that with three and a half books read. That doesn't seem like much, but given how busy I've been lately it was quite an accomplishment! I offer a brief review of my most recent book here, "The Alchemy of Air" by Thomas Hager.

Chemical Connections to Climate Change

It is becoming increasingly important for citizens to understand various concepts related to climate change and global warming. This post describes several chemical concepts that are pertinent to these issues, in the hopes that teachers of science and chemistry can introduce the topic of climate change into their classrooms and everyday discussions.

Pondering Packing Peanut Polymers

In this Activity, students compare polystrene and cornstarch packing materials ("peanuts"). Both are made of polymers, but because of their composition, they behave very differently in various solvents. Students extrapolate how these differences in behavior relate to environmental effects, such as filling landfills with non-biodegradable materials.

Water Filtration

In this Activity, students make a water filtration column using a 2-liter plastic beverage bottle that contains layers of gravel, sand, and activated charcoal. They prepare a contaminated sample of water and examine the filtration ability of the column. This environmental chemistry Activity can be used to complement a celebration of Earth Day.

A Cool Drink!: An Introduction to Concentrations

In this Activity, students investigate concentration levels by using serial dilution to prepare several solutions of presweetened powdered drink mix. Students taste the solutions to determine at which concentration they first discern the sweetness. A connection is also made to the concentration of pollutants in air.

Soil Testing: Dig In!

In this Activity, students collect soil samples and characterize them by examining their physical appearance, water holding capacity, sedimentation, and pH. Based on their observations, they can see that different samples of something as universal as soil can be quite different from each other. This environmental chemistry Activity can be used to complement a celebration of Earth Day.

Hold the Heat: Global Warming and Calorimetry

In this Activity, students perform quantitative calorimetric measurements on samples of ice/water heated by incandescent light bulbs and/or convection with room-temperature surroundings. They measure and graph temperature as a function of time.