American Univesity of Beirut

ChemCarnival amazes and inspires young minds with the wonder of science

​Jennifer Muller, Office of Communications,​

An audience ranging from toddlers to teenagers and adults watched in rapt attention on a sunny Friday afternoon as chemical concoctions fizzed, bubbled, smoked, and even exploded. For over an hour, students of AUB’s Organic Chemistry Club (OCC) performed a wide range of chemistry experiments in front of the crowd, with MC Samar Khalil explaining the science behind each experiment.  

“As a team we work on lots of exciting stuff, targeting people from different ages but for the same purpose: transformative education,” said Wissam Mekary, a member of OCC who is studying pre-med. “It was, for sure, a very interesting experience. You get to see the kids very excited about what you're going to perform on stage.”

The students had prepared meticulously for the event, working with their faculty adviser and chemistry professor, Dr. Bilal Kaafarani. To ensure that all experiments were safe, they also had oversight from the staff at AUB’s Environmental Health, Safety, and Risk Management Department, who were on hand at the event with firefighting equipment in case of any problem.

“ChemCarnival is a unique outreach educational event that promotes chemistry, particularly to the young minds, in a thrilling and fun approach,” Kaafarani told us, adding that it also helps students learn how to communicate about chemistry to a general audience and to a wide spectrum of ages.

A student-led event 

The students began by conducting numerous experiments on stage and then the action moved to the ground for a series of large-scale experiments, such as 105 paint canisters filled with vinegar and sodium bicarbonate bursting open in a shower of colors, huge tubs filled with soap and liquid nitrogen erupting in a geyser of bubbles, and the grand finale of 3,000 ping-pong balls exploding from a barrel.

“Finding new ideas and coordinating all the details, especially with our exams and studies, was the challenging part, but it was all worth it,” said Elissa Shehayeb, a chemistry major who helped prepare all the materials behind the scenes. “ChemCarnival is a great event in which students of all ages learn about different chemistry experiments and have the chance to enjoy all the fun, colors, and explosions.”

The OCC students who performed the experiments during ChemCarnival come from majors across the university, including biology, chemical engineering, nutrition, psychology, physics, and (of course) chemistry.

“It is a great experience for students,” said Dina El Achi, a senior majoring in nutrition and economics. “Through ChemCarnival, a student would learn the art of meticulous planning and teamwork, dive into the world of chemistry, and—last but not least—enjoy every moment of it!”

Education and outreach

The event was open to the public and was aimed particularly at young people in order to introduce them to the wonders of chemistry and science.  One group of 8th grade girls even came from the Beqaa Valley for the event: students from two of the schools for refugee children run by the Kayany Foundation, supported by AUB’s Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS), and housed in the GHATA structures designed at AUB.  

These 8th graders were brought to ChemCarnival by CCECS as part of their initiative to enhance science education for refugee students, which includes assembling and equipping science labs in two GHATA all-girls' middle schools as well as training the students and teachers on how to use them. In addition to attending the ChemCarnival, the girls toured the campus and met with scholarship students to learn about their experience coming to AUB.

As with all the audience, and particularly all the kids, these 8th graders were enthralled by the experiments at ChemCarnival and obviously enjoyed the experience. Finally, as a sweet treat to end the event, the OCC students made ice cream using liquid nitrogen to quickly freeze the milk and sugar, which they then distributed to the throngs of happy children.

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