STEM LAUNCH PAGE
STEM LAUNCH POINTS
Each month GOSTEM will showcase a different Launch Point and the STEM connections that can be explored. These stories are quick summaries of interesting people and circumstances where using STEM was as an integrated way of thinking and necessary to solve the problem. In each situation, STEM disciplines are applied to knowing about and then solving the issues and challenges presented. Each month’s story is archived here and linked to instructions for explorations that students can do.
April’s Story> From Nothing to Amazing
Bright, motivated, highly principled, George Carver completed his college education and was promptly offered a job to teach science and agriculture at the newly formed Tuskeegee Institute. When he arrives at the college he was welcomed to a building where he was asked to perform wonders–only to find it empty!
George Caver started with nothing. No equipment, no books, no furniture, no laboratory, and even no heat! Simply asking for these things is not going to work because Tuskeegee had virtually no money. So, what to do? Carver began to rummage around and find things in discards, rubbish, or second hand stores. He built his army of students to follow in his footsteps to create a laboratory and learning classroom from scratch. Professor Carver liked to make things; it was his natural inclination. But students didn’t know what to do. “There’s no need to whine, ‘Oh, if I only had so-and-so!’” he instructed. “Do it anyhow; use what you find about you.” Then he took them out to scour rubbish heaps for bottles, jars, wires, rubber, string, and glass. “Equipment is not all in the laboratory, but in the head of the man running it.”
This is a perfect invitation for students to take-on the same habit of mind. In this STEM unit, students explore how they can make some of their own equipment from recycled materials and how they can do experiments in food chemistry. Students can explore the nature of proteins in milk and their applications to making plastics through denaturing and polymerization, learn how to remove starch from potato and create paper, saponify fat, and distill fermented fruit to create solvents. These explorations, their instructions, and teacher guide are available at https://sites.google.com/a/eou.edu/stem-stories/carver
March’s Story> Carrie Everson: Frontier Chemist
Imagine it is the 1870s. You are the owner of a g old mine that has been played-out. You are out of money. And now, your husband flees to Mexico! What shall you do? Carrie Everson was precisely in that pickle, but Carrie was no ordinary cucumber! Uncommon in her era, she had completed college and had a significant education in chemistry. Her scientific mind grappled with the predicament of her pile of ore and how she might eke-out a bit more gold. With some prior knowledge she picked up from miners, she knew that the tiniest particles of gold were missed by the sluicing and panning process. They could be seen floating away on the soap suds when miner’s clothes were laundered. With this observation, her understanding of chemistry, and now an effort to engineer a process, Carrie Everson began a journey that would earn her a patent that could save her mine, and perhaps, many others.
This story is a Launching Point for STEM explorations. What chemistry did she know that she applied to this real problem? We can explore the nature of various minerals, their elemental structure and relative densities. What was the technology of the day and how did gold escape from miner’s processes? We can use some typical tools to mechanically separate metals from sand to understand how this might happen. What are many processes used in industry to remove precious minerals? We can try-out several kinds of mineral extraction through leaching, electrolysis, and static separation. These explorations, their instructions and teacher guide are available at https://sites.google.com/a/eou.edu/stem-stories/carrie-everson
February’s Story> The Man Who Nearly Destroyed the Earth’s Atmosphere
Thomas Midgely was a brilliant chemist. One of his first major efforts was to assist the war effort during the 1940’s by improving the performance of gasoline. His research produced an amazing chemical that when added to gas boosted the octane rating–that is the explosive power of the gasoline inside an engine. This fuel boosted the engines of the Allied fighters battling over England. The slower German aircraft could not accelerate or fly as fast, and as a result, the Battle of Britain was won. Midgely was widely praised for his contribution to the war.
Later in his career, Midgely worked on a new problem. Refrigerator manufactures were puzzled about how to make the coolant in their refrigerator’s compressor more efficient and less toxic. The original liquid used, ammonia, was poisonous and did not perform well as a conductor of heat. Midgely set his chemist’s mind to the task and ultimately developed a miracle new chemical that was highly efficient and non-toxic. The industry celebrated his success. Again he gained high honors for his discovery.
By the 1970’s, long after Thomas Midgley had passed away, environmental scientists began to understand how certain human-made chemicals were interacting with the atmosphere. Midgley’s additive to gasoline was killing people and the new refrigerant he discovered was destroying the ozone layer. Thomas Midgely, almost single handedly, nearly destroyed the planet.
What else can we learn from this story? What sorts of STEM explorations can we pursue to know more about these problems? Read the rest of the story and possible explorations at: https://sites.google.com/a/eou.edu/stem-stories/midgely