Dec 10, 2019
Child extracting DNA from strawberry
Chemistry & Biochemistry faculty, postdocs, grad students, and undergrads helped make this year's Exploring Your Universe (EYU) a huge success.
 
Exploring Your Universe (EYU) is one of UCLA’s biggest annual events, drawing in thousands of children, parents, and friends from the Los Angeles community to our campus on the first Sunday of November. Organized by UCLA graduate students and run by volunteers, this science fair has been a tradition to provide a day of free science education to all. For ten years, EYU has provided fun, hands-on experiments and presentations to curious minds and young future scientists alike. 
 
A photo gallery from the event can be viewed here and select photos can be viewed below. 
 
The event began with Dean of Physical Sciences Miguel García-Garibay presenting actress, neuroscientist and UCLA alumna Dr. Mayim Bialik with the UCLA Science and Education Pioneer Award (pictured right). The award, established by the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences in 2017 and presented yearly at the EYU, recognizes individuals who have demonstrated a stellar commitment to empowering the public – especially children – to pursue education and success in the sciences. 
 
Chemistry Professor Richard Kaner gave an afternoon science talk at the event titled “Fun with Plastics” and graduate student Mackenzie Anderson give a talk titled “Toilet to Tap”. Several chemistry & biochemistry student groups, individuals, and labs hosted fun interactive booths for children and their parents, which are described below. 
 
Members of Professor Anastassia Alexandrova’s group put aside their computer keyboards to introduce the public to the wonderful world of the chemistry behind Bubbles & Foam! Two demonstrations were combined in the booth, marrying two things that virtually all children are drawn to. For the first part, kids were introduced to how changing the composition of a bubble mixture can give you bubbles that range from small and short-lived, to big and long-lasting. This introduced many kids to the ideas of deionized water, surfactants, and how the molecules that make bubbles so fun also make for really good soap. They got to explore bubble-making with a range of tools, including bubble wands, slotted kitchen spoons, zip-ties, and even their own hands. After much splashing and bubble entertainment, the foam demonstration drew them in, using the popular “elephant toothpaste” experiment  to demonstrate concepts such as catalysis and exothermic reactions. Showing how adding yeast to the hydrogen peroxide and soapy water mixture dramatically formed hot foam allowed kids to experience the outcome of chemical reactions in the kind of “hands-on”manner promoted by EYU. With the number of bubbles blown in the thousands, the booth was a wild success with children of every age.
 
At the Alpha Chi Sigma (AXS) “Chemistry Corner” booth, student members taught the audience basic chemistry concepts demonstrating experiments such as the "elephant toothpaste" which is a live chemical reaction which produces large quantities of bubbly foam. The students also used liquid nitrogen to flash freeze flower petals and to deform balloons in order to teach the audience about physical states of matter (solid, liquid, gas) and introduce the concept of pressure and temperature.  They used cabbage and water to explain the difference between acids and bases. Children in the audience were allowed to put on lab coats, goggles and gloves so that they could experience what it feels like to wear protective gear in the lab. 
 

Members 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. 

During this year's annual EYU event, the Chemistry & Biochemistry Graduate Student Association (CBGSA) brought fun, scientific demonstrations enjoyed by children and parents of all ages. After visiting their booth, participants learned the importance of opposing magnetic fields through the "Magnet Race" and how simple concepts of density can allow safe, household items to be utilized to make their own homemade lava lamps. Participants also had the opportunity to get their hands dirty for the "Milk Art" demonstration where they created their own colorful art with food coloring, whole milk, and dish soap. 

Graduate students and postdocs from across the science and engineering, including many volunteers from the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, teamed up with the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) to present experiments from the CNSI Nanoscience Education Program. 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.
 
The UCLA Chapter of the Electrochemical Society (ECS) held their annual “Battery School” booth where children and their parents were shown how to build their own batteries using common household items (vinegar, paper towels, pennies, and aluminum foil) and how to integrate their homemade battery into complete LED circuit using graphite pencils as an electron conductor.
 
The graduate Biochemistry Student Association (gBSA),with volunteers from both Chemistry & Biochemistry & Chemical Engineering Departments, hosted their annual “Extract DNA with gBSA!” booth. Visitors learned about the importance of DNA and its use in creating new medicines, designing better crops, and solving crimes. Children and adults extracted DNA from strawberries by smashing strawberries in a bag, adding ‘extraction liquid’ of salty soap to break open strawberry cells, filtering out debris through a strainer, and finally precipitating out DNA using rubbing alcohol. Over 600 children participated in the experiment and took home their own strawberry DNA in plastic tubes. gBSA was awarded funds for materials by the EYU committee and additional supplies were provided by the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry.
 
Professor Ken Houk and his group hosted their “Chemistry Cornhole” booth which had molecules, vanillin and banana oil, displayed on large banners. At each C-H bond position, there was a hole cut out where kids could throw bean bag 'metal catalysts' to activate the bonds. Another demo at the booth was Medicine Match where visitors matched medicinal molecules (acetaminophen, vitamin C, ibuprofen, etc) to different protein receptors. Through this, the students were able to explain the concept of enantiomers as well as why some molecules can bind but others cannot.
 
Graduate student Yiyi Yao (Tolbert group) came up with the idea for the "Mad Scientist Escape Room" and recruited volunteers to help, includingn labmate undergraduate researcher Matthew Chin who helped brainstorm and create the puzzles. When players entered the room they watched a short video explaining that have been locked in a mad scientist's laboratory and must solve chemistry-themed puzzles within 30 minutes in order to escape. The players had to solve puzzles aimed to teach basic chemistry concepts using candy atomic models, unlocking a combination by measuring the pH of common household liquids, and discovering a hidden clue through dissolving salt in water to change the density. 
 
Professor Ellen Sletten and 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.
 
Chemistry sophomore Ovie Soman, an undergraduate research assistant in Professor Alex Spokoyny’s group, organized the “Make Your Own Bath Salts” booth, with the help of undergraduate volunteers from several departments. “I wanted to bring my subject, which I am so passionate about, closer to kids,” Soman said. “My booth gave kids a hands-on opportunity to make their own bath salts using easily available ingredients like organic washing soda (recipe 1) and Epsom salt as well as baking soda (recipe 2). They were given a choice of essential oils for relaxing fragrance and food colours to make the bath salts pop. The activity allowed children to glean a basic understanding of the properties and applications of washing soda, Epsom salt, baking soda, and essential oils. I believe my project would be a good segue into chemistry and probably even into medicine and pharmaceuticals.”
 
The Student Members of the American Chemical Society (SMACS) hosted interactive chemistry demonstrations meant to pique the intellectual curiosity of children in the audience in the hope of inspiring the next-generation of scientists. 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: "Color Changing Milk", where children saw the mesmerizing interaction between hand soap and brightly colored milk; "Non-Newtonian Fluid", where children learned about and played with the non-Newtonian fluid Oobleck; and "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 also having a great time.
 
(Left) Dean of Physical Sciences Miguel García-Garibay presented Bialik with a neuroscience related art piece. (Right) Bialik poses with department supporter UCLA alum Dr. Mani L. Bhaumik.
 
(Left) UCLA alumna actress Mayim Bialik (center) with student event organizers.
 
(Left) Professor Ric Kaner demonstrates how to have fun with plastics. (Right) Graduate student Mackenzie Anderson gave a talk titled “Toilet to Tap”.
 
At the Alexandrova group's "Bubbles and Foam!" booth, graduate student Zerina Mehmedović shows the audience how changing the composition of a bubble mixture can make bubbles that range from small and short-lived, to big and long-lasting. 
 
(Left) At the “Chemistry Corner” booth, AXS members booth co-leader Ariana Tamura, with Charles Lomba and Kevin Shaffman who demonstrate pH change by mixing colored ingredients such as red cabbage juice and baking soda.
 
At the "Illuminating the World of Molecules" booth organized by Professor Justin Caram’s group - (left to right) Hannah Freidman showing sound wave patterns with oobleck on subwoofer. Tiffany Zhou, Varit Chantranuwathana, and Stephanie Tenney explaining fluorescence with glow in the dark beads.
 
At the CBGSA booth - (left) graduate student Vince Hipwell demonstrates the importance of opposing magnetic fields through the "Magnet Race", (right) Graduate student Edris Rivera showed children how soap acts as a surface active agent to reduce the surface tension of the milk and allowing the food coloring to disperse.
 
At the California Nanosystems (CNSI) booth – (Left) Dayanni Bhagwadin explains how to use nanoscience to make surfaces ultra-water repellant or ‘superhydrophobic’, KJ Winchell explains how nanostructured polymer networks give structure to cells, and Cheylene Tanimoto explains how molecules can self-assemble into complex nanoscale structures. (Right) Kevin Cannon explains how thermoelectrics can be used to generate electricity from heat, and Katie Perrotta explains how nanoscale metals can be used to produce vivid colors.
 
Members of the UCLA Chapter of Electrochemical Society (ECS) at ECS Battery School booth (Left) graduate students Alexander Cheikh (left) and Sophia King (right) at the “Draw Your Circuit” Booth to show kids that graphite can be used as a conductor in an electrical circuit. (Right) Sophia King, Tori Basile, Charlene Salamat, Andrew Dawson, Guangyan Zhong and, Dan Zhu.
 
At the 2019 Extract DNA with gBSA booth - (left) a child uses a bamboo stick to extract DNA from strawberry pulp. (Right) Graduate student Hannah Bailey shows children how to work with the strawberries. 
 
At Professor Ken Houk’s group’s “Chemistry Cornhole” large molecules, vanillin and banana oil, were displayed on banners. At each C-H bond position, there was a hole cut out where kids could throw bean bag 'metal catalysts' to activate the bonds.  Another demo was “Medicine Match” where visitors matched medicinal molecules to different protein receptors.
 
(Left) Graduate student organizers of the "Mad Scientist Escape Room" and (right) the mad scientist, played by David Leos, who, in a video, explains that players are locked in his laboratory and must solve chemistry-themed puzzles within 30 minutes in order to escape. 
 
(Left) Jessica Zhang, Margeaux Miller, Emily (Maly) Cosco, and Ga Young (Gina) Lee from the Sletten group prepare to make glowsticks with participants of EYU to explore the phenomenon of fluorescence in the PhotoNBooth. (Right) Delighted children pose for photos in the PhotoNBooth in which black lights in the booth caused the props to fluoresce. 
 
 (Left) At the SMACS booth Jason Wu demonstrates the unique properties of non-Newtonian fluids to investigative students. Nina Le and Adira Kruayatidee guide attentive students through the color-changing milk experiment.
 
"Make Your Own Bath Salts" booth volunteers undergraduates Rachana Jayaraman and Teresa Huang.
 
Chemistry & Biochemistry researchers were featured in a short video promoting this year's eventClick here to read about the department’s participation in the 2018 EYU. 
 
Many thanks to the following people who provided photos and/or booth descriptions: Patricia Poths (Alexandrova group), Arissa Santos (AXS), Ashley Jiwon Shin (Caram group), Edris Rivera (CBGSA), Prof. Sarah Tolbert & Dr. Rita Blaik (CNSI), Grace Whang (ECS), Jenny Ngo (gBSA), Katherine Bay (Houk group), Yiyi Yao (Mad Scientist Escape Room), Rachel Day (Sletten Group), Luke Elissiry (SMACS), Ovie Soman (Make Your Own Bath Salts), and Joy Kruger (Development). Many photos of the event were taken by Amy Tierney for the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences.
 
Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.