Students Celebrate Chemistry Week by making nitrous oxide ice cream

Chemistry students perform an experiment with dry ice at the Fire and Lights show during National Chemistry Week in this file photo | Photo by Amanda Rohde, staff photographer

Billows of icy steam slipped over the rim of a giant mixing bowl and slithered onto the floor of the Student Union Building outside of Coburn Dining Room on Wednesday morning as Chemistry students invited passersby to participate in National Chemistry week by enjoying a freshly-made cup of nitrous oxide ice cream.

National Chemistry Week is a nation-wide program of the American Chemical Society designed to reach out to the community with positive messages about chemistry.  Every fourth week of Oct., chemists around the country collaborate to put on educational events that appeal to people of all ages.

“National Chemistry Week raises awareness of how chemistry is operating around us all the time, as well as allowing chemists to plug into the community in a meaningful way,” chemistry major Vernon Stafford said.

On Wednesday morning, Stafford collaborated with cell molecular biology major, Charles Scott, to bring Union students a taste of chemistry in the form of strawberry and chocolate ice cream made by mixing milk and syrup in a large bowl and cooling and condensing the ingredients by simply adding liquid nitrous oxide.

The entire process took less than 30 seconds and was as visually interesting as it was delicious. As soon as the liquid nitrous oxide was poured into the bowl, billows of thick, cold steam began to spiral their way over the bowl’s rim, covering the entire table and spilling onto the floor.

“Chemistry is a part of our daily lives whether we are aware of it or not,” Scott said.  “Even though I’m not a chemistry major, I don’t regret getting involved in Chemistry Week since it is a fun way to help people visualize what chemistry is and how stuff works.”

The ice cream project is one of many that the Chemistry Department, with assistance from the Physics Department, has facilitated this week.  Later on Wednesday evening, Student Members of the Chemical Society traveled to Northrup Baptist Church and performed chemistry demonstrations as a means of teaching Biblical truths to children.

In addition to making nitrous oxide ice cream at several elementary schools, the Student Members of the Chemical Society are celebrating National Chemistry Week by hosting the Brown Bag Seminars, where chemistry students will showcase research, Mole Day, which celebrates Avogadro’s number by breaking the traditional “Moleata” and crowning a Mole King and Mole Queen, a Periodic Table of Sweets, a Fire and Light Demonstration and, finally, a formal dinner.

“A lot of time and preparation has gone into this week,” said Stafford. “I like to investigate the natural world, and I hope that by showing that chemistry can be used to make stuff we can actually see and eat, we can raise awareness of how vital chemistry is in our day-to-day lives.”