A teacher spoke in a hydrogen-induced squeaky voice. Children slipped goggles over their eyes. Teenagers transformed foul-smelling acids into banana oil. A tube bubbled over and liquid gushed onto the counter.
People usually don’t see large groups of children and teens congregated at the BYU Benson Building doing science experiments, but they did on Open Lab Day.
More than 110 youth attended the Y-Chem hosted event on Saturday, May 14th.
Participants engaged in several hands-on experiments while learning chemistry facts. Experiments varied based on age, but activities ranged from creating banana-scented oil to watching balloons explode. Youth ended the day by eating nitrogen ice cream and watching a chemistry magic show.
Open Lab Day started in 2013. It now includes elementary school children, and it has increased in length, according to Y-Chem President Alex Farnsworth.
“It’s still changing and adapting,” Farnsworth said.
Blain Wilkey brought his son and a friend to the event. The two boys said they most enjoyed an experiment where they got to change the color of fire. Alex Farnsworth said many of the younger students said that was their favorite event as well.
While the event was fun, Wilkey also felt the day was beneficial to the youth.
“It introduces them to a discipline of skills they wouldn’t have been able to learn,” Wilkey said.
Volunteers said the experience gave youth an opportunity to embrace STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“Of course, it promoted STEM. I believe it did so by showing kids it is a fascinating and applicable career choice,” Farnsworth said. “It is more than just textbooks and irrelevant information that doesn’t apply.”
Farnsworth said a goal of Y-Chem is to help others gain a passion for science. He said if more people are involved in science, then more people will be able to look for solutions from different angles.
Junior Paul Joshua Hurst, chemistry major and Y-Chem outreach officer, agreed that Open Lab Day helps youth understand what science is.
“Science is cool. It’s worth the effort,” Hurst said, explaining that many college students drop out of the BYU chemistry program. “There’s a lot of purpose in what we do. I’d encourage students to remember that.”
BYU encourages STEM among youth in other ways besides Open Lab Day.
BYU coordinator Barry Graff participates in a grant and works with other institutions, including the Utah State Office of Education and the STEM Action Center, to provide STEM learning to elementary school teachers. University faculty members teach some of the endorsement courses.
The STEM Action Center established the Utah STEM Foundation as an official state program on May 5, 2016.
The foundation provides funding and resources for STEM use to teachers and students. Their goal is to create programs that bring industry to classrooms. The Utah STEM Foundation provides a variety of grants to encourage development. People can apply for up to $10,000 to create STEM-oriented organizations. Students also can apply for grants to participate in STEM camps and competitions.
Farnsworth believes investing in the future through teaching children is a way to create change.
“It doesn’t take away from our responsibility, but we need to invest in the solutions to problems we don’t even know about,” Farnsworth said.