American Chemical Society is a Catalyst for Curiosity at First Fridays

Oct 17, 2022

by FSC Staff

The Florida Southern College chapter of the American Chemical Society (ACS) has been generating interest in science at First Friday events in downtown Lakeland for more than five years.

From 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the first Friday of each month, the city of Lakeland prohibits motor vehicle traffic on several of its downtown streets. Local artisans, business owners, crafters, civic and educational organizations, along with food vendors occupy streets for several blocks in the city center to sell their goods and/or present information. Members of the Florida Southern ACS volunteer their time presenting interactive science experiments for children and adults to educate and inspire them about the field of science.

Florida Southern Associate Professor of Chemistry and faculty advisor Dr. Jarrod Eubank Ph.D. plays a leading role in guiding and advising the ACS members for the monthly event. Dr. Eubank has been involved with ACS and First Friday demonstrations for many years.

“Dr. Carmen Gauthier, who had been the advisor several years prior, suggested First Fridays as a means of community outreach,” Dr. Eubank said. “We have been attending every year since.”

Except during the worst of the recent pandemic, FSC ACS has been participating in First Friday consistently. Biochemistry and molecular biology major Justin Kelleher ‘24 has been overseeing FSC’s involvement for two years.  Dr. Gauthier returned as co-advisor for the past two years to help with an international collaboration with a student chapter in her native country of Peru.

“It has been very successful, especially since we have been partnering with the Southeastern University chapter of ACS to collaborate,” Kelleher said.

Many of the demonstrations are visually appealing, making them popular with attendees. Elephant toothpaste and slime are two of the favorites among the younger crowd. They are easy to do and clearly show kids how science works.

“It’s super simple for kids to do and yields a big reaction that gets kids excited,” biology major Mackenzie VanHees ’23 said about the elephant toothpaste demonstration.

Parents appreciate when there is something educational, safe, and holds their children’s interest; children love the hands-on demonstrations.

“We are lucky to have a local event such as First Friday, as we have access to such a diverse crowd across all levels that would be hard to top just by visiting schools or inviting students to our labs,” Dr. Eubank said. “For each event, we try to come up with a demonstration that fits with the First Friday theme, but the main goal is to create interactive, engaging, hands-on demos where children, and adults if they like, can actively participate. Children from a very young age learn about simple to relatively complex chemistry concepts, while having fun doing it.”

On October 7, Kelleher and his fellow ACS members did Halloween themed demonstrations of glow in the dark slime and popping pumpkin bags that are safe and can be done by the kids.

FSC students enjoy sharing knowledge with people at Lakeland’s First Friday gatherings and creating interest in the field of science. They like seeing the children “mystified” by science. ACS volunteers also hold parents’ interest by explaining the chemistry that creates the reactions in the demonstrations.

“I love volunteering at First Friday in order to meet more people in the community and give them insight into Florida Southern College’s science departments,” VanHees said.

Occasionally, the ACS booth hands out items for people to take home. Items such as ultraviolet (UV) bead bracelets that glow when they have been exposed to high amounts of UV light help wearers know when they need sunscreen. “Green chemistry” demonstrations inform people how to replace harmful solvents used in homes with less harmful cleaning options. FSC students hope to keep sharing science that keeps people safe.

“We don't usually get to know people by name, but many of them will come by at multiple First Fridays and clearly remember our experiments from the month prior.” Kelleher said. “We love to teach them about different fields and types of chemistry and also talk about the opportunities FSC has presented for us as science majors.”

“The children are able to directly feel the effects of the reactions, increase or decrease in heat, glue turning to solid slime in their hands, a true hands-on experience,” Dr. Eubank said. Our hope is that this helps foster an interest in chemistry and STEM at a young age that continues as they start to explore career and college options, and perhaps even choose Florida Southern as their undergraduate home.”