UCLA’s 2021 Exploring Your Universe (EYU)

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Chemistry & Biochemistry faculty, postdocs, grad students, undergrads, and alums helped make Exploring Your Universe on November 7, 2021, a huge success.

For the second year, the festival was offered online – giving visitors from all over the world the opportunity to take part in guided, do-it-yourself science experiments while engaging with scientists on a wide range of subjects. The EYU website listed easy-to-obtain supplies so that attendees could gather them in advance before participating in experiments during the festival. Several members of the department participated as speakers, hosts of guided demos and virtual tour booths, and as volunteers.

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. Since its inception in 2009, EYU has provided fun, hands-on experiments and presentations to curious minds and young future scientists alike.  

Professor Paul WeissAmong the event’s most popular activities was the “Ask a Scientist”, which gave attendees a chance to chat directly with experts in astronomy, chemistry, geology, epidemiology and other fields. Nanoscientist Professor Paul Weiss (pictured right) answered questions about nanotechnology in the chemistry Q&A session.  

At the “Science Talks” portion of the event, UCLA experts gave 15-minute talks tailored for general audiences of all ages. Synthetic inorganic chemist Professor Richard Kaner gave a talk titled “Fun with Plastics!”. View video here.

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Professor Richard Kaner poses for a screen shot with attendees after his “Fun with Plastics!” talk.

Several chemistry & biochemistry student groups, individuals, labs, and alumni, hosted fun interactive virtual booths for children and their parents, which are described below.

Professor Anastassia Alexandrova’s group hosted the “Exploring Chemistry with Computers!” booth where participants were able to watch the magic of molecular dynamics simulations, model real phase transitions, and see solvation effects in water using the beautiful basics of chemistry! In addition to graduate student hosts Patricia Poths, Rob Lavroff and Zisheng Zhang (pictured below), the other graduate student hosts (not pictured) were Nathaniel Johnston, Claire Dickerson, and Will Laderer. 

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Graduate students (from top) Patricia Poths, Rob Lavroff and Zisheng Zhang at the Alexandrova group’s “Exploring Chemistry with Computers!” booth.

Professor Justin Caram’s group hosted the “Illuminating the World of Molecules” booth, where they explored what makes molecules glow, including concepts like photoluminescence, fluorescence, and chemiluminescence. Booth hosts were graduate students Jill Williams and Ashley Shin (pictured below). 


Graduate students Jill Williams and Ashley Shin pose for a photo with children at the Caram group’s “Illuminating the World of Molecules” booth.

Professor Ellen Sletten’s group hosted the “Color, Optics, and Fluorescence” booth, where they explored color, refraction, and fluorescence of household items. Booth hosts were graduate students Kaitlin Hartung, Kelly Wong, Angela Bui, Caitlyn Fick, and Anthony Spearman (pictured below). Professor Sletten and her group’s Photonbooth outreach are featured in recent UCLA Newsroom article. 

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Graduate students Kaitlin Hartung, Kelly Wong, Angela Bui, Caitlyn Fick, and Anthony Spearman at the Sletten group’s “Color, Optics, and Fluorescence” booth.

Alpha Chi Sigma (AXS), the professional chemistry co-ed fraternity for undergraduate students, hosted a “Create a pH indicator!” booth where they did a fun chemistry experiment creating a rainbow pH indicator from red cabbage juice to learn about acids and bases.  The booth was hosted by AXS members Jacob Nguyen, Zoe Pepper, Selina Park, and Jovy Trejo (pictured below).

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AXS members Jacob Nguyen and Zoe Pepper made and presented a Powerpoint presentation (slides left) and a video with AXS members Selina Park and Jovy Trejo (right) was also shown. (Photos provided by AXS)

The California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI) hosted the “Structure and Color with Nanoscience” booth, which showed viewers how structure and chemistry play together on the nanoscale to create beautiful colors and effects; and at the Nano and Me! booth, visitors learned how nanoscience and biology relate and how we can see nanotechnology in nature and how we learn from nature to make better products for everyday life. Graduate students hosting the booth were Cheylene Tanimoto (Gelbart/Knobler group), Randy Chen (Dunn group, UCLA Materials Science and Engineering), Bryan Christian (Quilan group), and Andy Vong (Schwartz group). In the photo below the contraption creates a bubble which grows thinner at the top. The light is reflected back from both the front and back surface of the bubble, and as the width of the bubble changes, the wavelength that constructively interferes changes. This produces a repeating rainbow band of light from the bottom to the top. As the bubble reaches the end of its life, it’ll grow thinner and thinner, changing the wavelengths that constructively interfere, changing the rainbow pattern up until it pops.

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Graduate students Cheylene Tanimoto, Randy Chen, Bryan Christian, and Andy Vong at the CNSI’s “Structure and Color with Nanoscience” booth.

The Chemistry and Biochemistry Graduate Student Association (CBGSA) hosted their “Kitchen Chemistry” booth where guests joined them for some fun at home and kitchen chemistry! In addition to Brandon Jolly (Liu group) and Zachary Schuman (pictured below), other graduate student hosts at the booth were Hayden Montgomery (Maynard/Spokoyny groups) and Grace Kunkel (Maynard group). Kitchen Chemistry 1

Graduate students Brandon Jolly and Zachary Schuman give a demonstration of a homemade lava lamp to a guest at the CBGSA booth.

Senior undergraduate student researcher Garrett Kukier (Houk group) hosted his “Crazy Chalk Lab” booth where students made a solution of colored chalk fizz up and dance!

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Undergraduate student Garrett Kukier poses for a photo with guests at his “Crazy Chalk Lab” booth.

The Society for The Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Student Chapter at UCLA hosted the “Make Your Own Lava Lamp” booth, where at their “Density and Buoyancy” module, they showed attendees how to make their own lava lamps. In addition to biochemistry alum and graduate student Carlos Galván ‘19 (Lowry group, UCLA Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology) and graduate student Jessenya Mil (Bhaduri group, Department of Biological Chemistry), pictured below, the other SACNAS members graduate students who helped make the event happen were Salena Gallardo (Butler group, Department of Neurobiology), Norma Sandoval (Correa group, Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology), Marisol Arellano (Bronstein group, Department of Molecular Toxicology) and Jocelyn Rodriguez (Shackelford group, Department of Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine).

Graduate students biochemistry alum Carlos Galván ‘19 and graduate student Jessenya Mil hosted the SACNAS “Make Your Own Lava Lamp” booth.

The UCLA Graduate Biochemistry Student Association (gBSA) hosted the “Extracting the DNA of a Strawberry!” booth where guests were taught how to extract a fruit’s DNA. The booth hosts were gBSA Dylan Valencia (Quinlan group), Angela Agnew, Alexandra Turmon, Hannah Bailey (Quinlan group), and Natalie Schibrowsky (Rodriguez Group) (pictured below). 

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Graduate student members of the gBSA (clockwise from top left) Dylan Valencia, Angela Agnew, Alexandra Turmon, Hannah Bailey, and Natalie Schibrowsky taught attendees how to extract DNA from a strawberry.

The UCLA Student Members of the American Chemical Society (SMACS) hosted the “Non-newtonian Fluid” booth, where visitors learned about the phase of matter and how to make a non-newtonian liquid, and the “Color Changing Milk” booth, where visitors learned about the science behind soap with a shocking color change. The undergraduate student booth hosts were SMACS Green Chemistry Chair of Akash Jain (C. Clarke group) and SMACS Professional Development Chair Gregory Gorobets (Spokoyny group) (pictured below).

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SMACS members Akash Jain and Gregory Gorobets pose for a photo with guests at the “Color Changing Milk” booth.

Click here to read about the 2020 Exploring Your Universe event. 

Exploring Your Universe is organized by UCLA graduate students and run by student and faculty volunteers. The event is made possible by the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences; the Mani L. Bhaumik Institute for Theoretical Physics; the Campus Programs Committee of the UCLA Program Activities Board; the UCLA Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences; the UCLA Department of Physics and Astronomy; the UCLA Galactic Center Group; and the UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

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