Chemistry hosts second annual STEM Day in 2018

On January 23, 2018, the Department of Chemistry hosted its second annual STEM Day, co-sponsored by the Rhode Island Section of the American Chemical Society. 60 high school students joined us from two public charter schools in Providence, RI: Times Squared STEM Academy and the 360 School.  

STEM Day piloted in 2017 with the idea of collaborating with public school teachers to brainstorm how the department can engage its faculty, undergraduates, and graduate students in outreach activities meaningful to college-bound students at local schools. In its second year, students from grades 9 - 11 at the two schools took part in a half-day of interactive sessions including an undergraduate panel discussion, discipline-specific breakouts, and a college access and success resources presentation.  

Undergraduate Panel

Our undergraduate panel, moderated by Prof. Brenda Rubenstein, focused on how students choose concentrations, student life, and why students chose their current paths. Participants asked their own questions to the recent navigators of the college application process.

Our panelists were Johanna Garfinkel (Geology-Chemistry), David Lu (Chemistry), Gabriel Reyes (Cognitive Neuroscience), Richard Huisa (intending Chemistry / Biology). Sonny Mo (Chemistry), Katie Vasquez (Astrophysics), Heesoo Kim (Chemical Physics), Zoe Phillips (undeclared), and Kim Pham (Chemistry).    

Breakout Sessions

During the breakout sessions, high school students worked directly with facilitators—including faculty and graduate students from Chemistry, DEEPS, and Physics—to discover how science can be applied to answer key questions across fields of study.  

Our breakout sessions included:

Nanoparticles: What are they? Why do we make them?: With facilitators Ou Chen (Assistant Professor of Chemistry) and Katie Hills-Kimball (Chemistry Graduate Student) participants learned about nanoparticles and synthesized quantum dots, seeing them “in action” through UV light.

"Mystery" Powders: Using Reactions to Identify Compounds: How can you use chemical reactions to identify an unknown compound? Participants worked in teams to answer this question with the guidance of Kathy Hess (Senior Lecturer in Chemistry) and Nathan Goff (Chemistry Graduate Student).

Where are the Atoms? Using Magnets to Identify Compounds: NMR is a powerful tool that finds itself in chemistry, physics, biology, and more. Students saw a brief presentation by NMR Specialist Dr. Russ Hopson and ran a sample in one of our NMR instruments.

The Jazz of Physics: The Link Between Music and The Structure of the Universe: What do physics and music have in common? Waves! Students discovered the wave nature of sound and the close relationship between music and physics with an interactive presentation by Stephon Alexander (Professor of Physics).

Magma and Volcanic Eruptions: Do chemistry and earth science have anything in common? Participants in this session can now answer “yes!” after working with Benjamin Parks (DEEPS Graduate Student) to find the link between these two subjects through a demo and presentation.

Making New Materials: the (fun) Chemistry of Polymers

Challenging the traditional idea of three distinct states of matter, students synthesized polymers of glue and borax, observing chemistry in action by tuning the properties and observing the results. Students also learned about the role polymers play in our everyday lives with Jerome Robinson (Assistant Professor of Chemistry), graduate students Natasha Vargo and Kerry Casey, and undergraduate Natalie Feinstein.

College Access & Success 

Finally, two members of Brown’s College Advising Corps (an AmeriCorps VISTA program coordinated by the Swearer Center for Public Service) presented on college access and success, answering questions such as “what can 9th, 10th, and 11th graders to prepare for college?” and demystifying the college search and financial aid process. This year’s presenters were Kara Komprathoum and Lloyd Schramm.

Group Leaders

Student group leaders were essential to the day's success. In addition to logisical support, group leaders encouraged conversation and collaboration among participants.  This year's group leaders were undergraduates Heesoo Kim, David Lu, Richard Huisa, Gabriel Reyes, Melaine Ortiz, and Lisa Nguyen, as well as graduate students Matthew Lueckheide, Luke Wilczek, Diego Jaime, Shuai Xie, and Maydelis Minaya.


The Department of Chemistry thanks the RI Section of the American Chemical Society for its co-sponsorship, all of our student and faculty volunteers, teachers and staff from 360 and Times Squared, and participants for making the day engaging and successful.