An explosive lesson at Bend Science Station

Ponderosa Elementary students learn about chemical reactions

By Megan Kehoe / The Bulletin

Educational news and activities, and local kids and their achievements.

• School Notes, B3

A green gummy bear met a colorful, fiery death Friday morning at the Bend Science Station, to the delight of about a dozen or so fifth-graders.

Moments after being dropped into a test tube of liquid, the small, sugary bear burst into purple flames. After about a minute, the gummy bear’s funeral pyre died out, leaving the classroom shrouded in a cloud of burnt sugar smoke.

“I didn’t expect it to be all purple like that,” said Ellie Hoffman, 9, still smiling from the thrill of the explosion. “It was pretty cool to watch.”

Friday, students in Jeremy Hought’s fourth-grade Ponderosa Elementary class visited the Bend Science Station for a morning of explosive science experiments. The class was there as part of the SPArK program, a Bend La Pine Schools partnership geared toward enriching science education through lessons in the laboratory . The program, started in 2008, is in its sixth year and has seven local schools participating in science lessons throughout the year. The lessons are mostly funded through grants secured by the Science Station.

“I think research shows that you’ve got to get kids interested in science at the elementary level,” said Lisa Bermudez, co-founder of the Bend Science Station.

“That’s when they develop a love and excitement for it that will later turn into something more,” Bermudez continued.

Friday’s lesson, taught by Science Station Executive Director David Bermudez, revolved around exothermic reactions — chemical reactions that cause heat to be released. Students began the day by breaking into pairs, putting on goggles and protective gloves, and carefully combining various chemicals in test tubes with water. While one student added the powder chemical, another one held the test tube, taking notes about temperature.

Students were asked to make hypotheses about the reactions beforehand.

“I think the temperature will go up,” said Ashlyn Mattson, 10, before combining calcium chloride with water. “I think it will react with the water and make it get hot.”

Ashlyn’s prediction was correct — as students throughout the classroom quickly found out after mixing the powder in water.

Diego Lopez-Gamez’s eyes grew wide as the temperature of the test tube he was holding began to soar. He had also predicted right — that the calcium chloride would cause an exothermic reaction.

“I love science,” Diego, 10, said. “It’s the best times. It’s my best subject.”

But the experiments were only a precursor to the larger events of the day. After students cleaned up their stations, they were asked to huddle around a glass-enclosed covered area where Bermudez began heating potassium chlorate in a test tube above a flame. He grabbed a bag of gummy bears off a nearby counter, and then asked students why food is important to the body.

“Because it keeps you alive?” answered one student.

Bermudez agreed, but explained the primary purpose of eating food is to gain energy. And that although gummy bears are perhaps not the healthiest food to eat, they do provide an almost immediate burst of energy.

A moment later, Bermudez demonstrated exactly what he meant by this. By dropping the gummy bear into the heated potassium chlorate, the liquid in the test tube burst into purple flames, to the round of oohs and aahs from students.

“That was so fun,” said Matthew Ebner, 10. “The dead gummy bear smells like s’mores.”

Bermudez explained to students that a similar reaction occurs in the body to turn food into energy, though the body spreads out this energy rather than releasing it all in one place.

“Otherwise a lot of people would be going around with purple jets flying out of their bodies,” Bermudez said.

Later, students went outside, where they watched another, larger explosion when Bermudez showed students what happens when you mix aluminum powder and iron oxide.

“To be honest, I hope that they just leave here wanting to do more science,” Bermudez said. “It isn’t so much about the content as it is about attempting to plant seeds for future interest in science.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0354, mkehoe@bendbulletin.com.