2018 Exploring Your Universe

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Chemistry & Biochemistry faculty, postdocs, grad students, and undergrads helped make the 2018 Exploring Your Universe event a huge success.

At the November 4, 2018, event on the UCLA campus, Chemistry Professor Richard Kaner gave an afternoon science talk titled “Fun with Plastics”, and several student groups and labs hosted fun interactive booths, which are described below, for children and their parents. A photo gallery from the event can be viewed here and select photos with captions can be viewed below the booth descriptions.


Actress, author, and UCLA alumna Danica McKellar was presented with the UCLA Science and Education Pioneer Award at the event. She is pictured at left with Dean of Physical Sciences and professor of organic chemistry Miguel Garcia-Garibay (left) and former UCLA postdoctoral fellow and EYU and department supporter Mani Bhaumik (center). 

CBGSA SmallStudent members of the Chemistry & Biochemistry Graduate Student Association (CBGSA) carried out a number of demonstrations spanning a multitude of concepts. They explained the concept of polymer formation through the creation of “edible boba,” and they demonstrated the process of crystallization using heat packs and hydrophobicity using “homemade lava lamps.” Students also demonstrated the “magnet race,” in which two identical magnets are dropped through two hollow copper tubes, with one of the tubes having a slit running the length of the tube. The magnet falls through the tube without the slit more slowly due to the opposing magnetic field generated by the tube, which cannot be generated in the tube that contains the slit. 

GBSA EYU 2Visitors to the “DNA Extraction from a Strawberry” booth, hosted by the student members of the graduate Biochemistry Student Association (gBSA), learned about the importance of DNA and its use in creating new medicines, designing better crops, and solving crimes. Children extracted DNA from strawberries by smashing up strawberries in a bag, adding ‘extraction liquid’ of salty soap to break open the strawberry cells, filtering out debris through a strainer, and finally precipitating out the DNA using rubbing alcohol. Over 600 children participated in the experiment and took home their DNA in plastic tubes. The UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry provided the funding for the supplies 

ECS%202%20SMALLAt the “Battery School” booth, hosted by the student members of the UCLA Chapter of the Electrochemical Society (ECS), children and their parents were taught how to build their own batteries, capable of lighting up an LED light bulb, using household items such as vinegar, pennies, aluminum foil, and paper towels. Visitors were also taught how to build their own circuit by drawing a connected picture with graphite pencils to complete the circuit between an LED bulb and a battery; and they could observe what happens to a battery connected to an LED bulb when it is frozen in liquid nitrogen. 

Caram SmallMembers of Professor Justin Caram’s group offered several demonstrations at their Illuminating the World of Molecules booth, with the broad theme of interaction of light or sound waves with various substances involving absorption, emission, interference, and diffraction. The demonstrations included bracelet-making with UV beads that change color in sunlight and glow-in-the-dark beads (visitors learned the concept of phosphorescence), as well as oobleck (non-Newtonian fluid), sound waves (showing how sound makes the non-Newtonian fluid take weird shapes), interference of waves to demonstrate constructive and destructive interference, dispersion of white light to make rainbows, and origin of color. 

SACNAS EYU 18 2 SmallThe student members of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) hosted the Lava Lamps booth where they demonstrated the concept of density through an everyday item, the lava lamp. Lava lamps work because they contain liquids with different densities. Using only water, oil, food coloring, and Alka-Seltzer, children were able to make their own lava lamps AND take them home. 

DSC00987smallProfessor Ellen Sletten and members of her group hosted their “PHOTONBooth,” which they constructed for outreach events. The PHOTONBooth provides an avenue for children to experience fluorescence which is the emission of light by a substance that has absorbed light or other electromagnetic radiation. The booth was coupled with demonstrations of household fluorescent materials and the creation of “glowsticks” using highlighters. In the “PHOTONBooth,” a clever word play on the typical “photo booth,” photons of black (UV) light excite props (hats, glasses, boas, etc.) causing them to fluoresce. Many of the props were painted with fluorescent paint to enhance the “glow” seen in the pictures. 

Oobleck SmallThe Student Members of the American Chemical Society (SMACS) hosted interactive chemistry demonstrations. In each demonstration, children were able to perform the experiment for themselves while SMACS members explained the science behind the demos in a fun and engaging manner to get children excited about chemistry. SMACS held three demonstrations: (1) Color Changing Milk, where children saw the mesmerizing interaction between hand soap and brightly colored milk, (2) Non-Newtonian Fluid, where children learned about and played with oobleck, and (3) Alka-Seltzer Lava Lamp, where children saw the chemical reaction between the tablet and water. Children and their parents came away from the booth having learned about density, hydrophobic substances, and viscosity while having a great time.

CNSI EYU 18 2 SmallGraduate students and postdocs from across the science and engineering, including many volunteers from Chemistry & Biochemistry, teamed up with the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) to present experiments from the CNSI Nanoscience Education Program. This program, which is directed by Professor Sarah Tolbert and CNSI staff member Dr. Rita Blaik, includes workshops for teachers, summer programs, and public outreach events like this one. The CNSI team explained a broad range of nanoscience concepts to children and parents. Hands on experiments gave students an understanding of topics as diverse as how plants use nanoscience to stay clean and manage water, how to make the kinds of nanoscale scaffolds that give cells and viruses their shape, how to use magnetic nanocrystals make a liquid that responds to a magnetic field, and why the sky is blue. Students also learned how nanoscience can help solve societally relevant problems like energy harvesting with experiments and demonstrations on thermoelectrics and plastic solar cells.


At the CBGSA booth – (left) Vince Hipwell and Edris Rivera demonstrate the process of crystallization using heat packs and hydrophobicity using “homemade lava lamps.” The super-saturated heat packs would crystallize upon snapping of a metal disk, providing a nucleation site for the process to occur and generate heat as a result. Jessica Logan and Hayden Montgomery (right) explain the concept of polymer formation through the creation of “edible boba.”

EYU 18 GBSA Montage2

At the gBSA booth – (left) Ryan Lannan demonstrates how to pick DNA up from the solution, and (right) (from left to right) gBSA members Nicole Lynn, Paul Sieminski, Hannah Bailey, Jennifer Ngo, Dylan Valencia, Ryan Lannan, and Samantha Zink run several DNA extractions for groups of children and their parents.

GBSA EYU18 Montage2

At the gBSA booth – (left) Natalie Schibrowsky shows strawberry DNA at the end of a bamboo stick, and (from left to right) Nicole Lynn and Kyle Meador explain the properties of DNA to the audience.

EYU 18 ECS Montage

At the ECS Battery School booth – (left) Glenn Lee (holding poster) and Akilah Miller (right) at the ECS “frozen battery” station and (right) Danielle Butts helps a student at the “draw your own circuit” station.

EYU 18 Caram Montage 1

At the Illuminating the World of Molecules booth – (left) postdoc Dr.Tim Atallah demonstrates why something looks green versus red using a green laser pointer and dyes, and (right) Leandra Forte and undergrad Danielle Cadena show how to make bracelets with UV beads that change color in sunlight and glow-in-the-dark beads to teach visitors the concept of phosphorescence.

EYU 18 Caram Montage 2

At the Illuminating the World of Molecules booth – (left) Ashley Shin demonstrates how oobleck (non-Newtonian fluid) interacts with sound waves and (right) Omar Leon, Danielle Koppel, and Stephanie Tenney demonstrate constructive and destructive interference using sound waves of different frequencies.


(From left to right) SACNAS members at their Lava Lamps booth – Daisy Palomera, Arianna Mendelli, Lauryn Thurlow, Maria Winters, Jasmine Esparza, Tina Del Carpio, Troy Lowe (Chemistry & Biochemistry PhD student), Jordan Kryza and Maria Flores (Chemistry & Biochemistry PhD student).

SACNAS EYU 18 Montage

SACNAS volunteers demonstrate the concept of density through an everyday item: the lava lamp. Lava lamps work because they contain liquids with different densities. Using only water, oil, food coloring, and Alka-Seltzer, kids were able to make their own lava lamp.

EYU 18 Sletten Montage 2

At the PHOTONBooth – Professor Ellen Sletten (left) and Irene Lim (right) help children make glow sticks to explain fluorescence.  

EYU 18 Sletten Montage 3

At the PHOTONBooth – black lights in the booth caused the props to fluoresce.

SMACS EYU18 Montage

At the (SMACS) hosted interactive chemistry demonstrations – (left) children investigate the varying viscosity of oobleck, a non-Newtonian fluid whose viscosity varies with pressure, and (right) children wait excitedly as SMACS members prepare the color-changing milk experiment.

CNSI EYU 18 Montage

At the CNSI Nanoscience Education Program booth (left) postdoc Dr. Leonardo Scarabelli shows children how nanoscience can be used to make thermoelectrics and (right) Harrison Mills explains how plants use nanoscience to stay clean and manage water.

Many thanks to Trevor Chang (CBGSA), Maeve Nagle (gBSA), Tori Basile (ECS), Arundhati Deshmukh (Caram Group), Maria Flores (SACNAS), Professor Ellen Sletten & Rachel Day, Luke Elissiry (SMACS), and Professor SarahTolbert and Dr. Rita Blaik (CNSI) for providing the photos and information for this article.

Article by Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry – penny@chem.ucla.edu