With gloves and safety goggles on, Robert Maglott put balloon after balloon into the small container of liquid nitrogen. Space appeared to be no problem as the balloons, a racquetball and apple filled the cylinder. Minutes later, when Maglott pulled out the shriveled balloons, they slowly expanded to their original shape.
This demonstration and others captivated the Grace students as they learned a little about chemistry and physics during the show.
Students and professors from The University of Texas at Tyler visited the school as part of a series of stops designed to inform students about the excitement and job prospects available through studying the sciences, particularly chemistry.
Through a show that combines color, fire, shrinking objects and a little friendly competition, the students share a bit about why they enjoy chemistry and the promising future available to those who choose the field.
“We have a high success rate,” UT Tyler graduate Ciera Ward said of chemistry majors. “Chemistry is success.”
The idea for these visits started when Dr. Neil Gray, a professor and chairman of UT Tyler’s chemistry department, attended the U.S. News STEM Solutions conference in June.
The conference brought together business, education and government leaders to advance the agenda for national change in STEM education, policy and workforce development, according to the conference website. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Gray said at the conference, he heard a lot of interesting statistics about the shortage of scientists and mathematicians. He said a lot of students don’t go into chemistry because it’s difficult. But they don’t necessarily hear the other side that it’s “cool, very exciting and very valuable as a career,” he said.
Ms. Ward said a degree in chemistry can lead to work in education, patent law, medicine, drug discovery, forensics and more. Gray said chemistry is a good foundation for medical school.
It is with these goals in mind that Gray, his students and other UT Tyler professors have visited several area schools. Although Gray spoke at a couple of schools last spring, he said he upped the ante this year after attending the conference.
During the presentations, he and others talk about chemistry and careers. UT Tyler chemistry majors put on a chemistry magic show where they perform chemical demonstrations that are very visual, with color, flames and more. They also talk about UT Tyler, and what sets it apart.
Gray said the hope is that students watching will consider the field for their future and realize “they can do science and that there are great jobs waiting for them and that there’s a lot of room for inclusion.”
Senior chemistry major Robert Maglott, 24, said his favorite comment to hear from students is, “What?” like they can’t believe what they’re seeing.
Maglott, who plans to become a high school chemistry teacher, said it’s exciting to see students get excited, something fellow senior chemistry major, Keith Temporal, 23, agreed with.
“It’s something that I love,” Temporal said of these shows. “I like being on stage. When you’re passionate about something, it’s a lot of fun to share that passion with someone else.”
Grace freshman Jaydee Edwards, 14, said the show was really good.
“It actually kind of made me want to go look at UT Tyler and look at their chemistry and biology departments,” Miss Edwards said.
Sophomore Jake Billings, 16, said he and his friends are good at chemistry, but it’s not necessarily their favorite subject. Still, he said, he liked the show.
Gray said they planned to visit about a dozen schools this year, and if it goes well, they might expand to the Dallas and Houston areas as well.
However, his primary focus is the Tyler area as well as economically disadvantaged students. He wants to let them know that they can go to college and they can choose to major in STEM fields.
“My goal is not really to get them specifically to come to UT Tyler, but to get them to go to college and do chemistry, specifically,” he said of his message to all students.
He said his aim is to talk to students in junior high and up. He would like for these visits to be annual so that students to hear from him or another UT Tyler chemistry department representative at least three times before they graduate.
“We need more kids going out there spreading the word about how good chemistry is so the younger kids will want to go into it because our nation needs it,” he said.