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Graduate students share love for chemistry at Science World

On a busy Saturday afternoon a group of graduate students from the Chemistry Department stand behind several activity tables, oozing enthusiasm and a passion for chemistry as they captivate children with giant bubbles and beakers filled with slime. Since 2011 this group of volunteers, headed by graduate student Susan Vickers with support from JM Lauzon, spend one afternoon a month at Vancouver’s TELUS World of Science running hands-on activities that entertain and educate kids of all ages.

The initiative began in 2011 when Professor Mark MacLachlan contacted Science World, looking for a way to involve the Department in celebrating and promoting the International Year of Chemistry to the general public. After Science World expressed positive interest Mark handed the project over to graduate student Susan Vickers, who then developed and implemented the initiative. The Faculty of Science, Department of Chemistry and Science World contributed funding, and by the end of 2011 the Department’s involvement with Science World was so successful that Susan was asked to continue running the program. It has since grown to include a rotating crew of Chemistry volunteers and most recently a 25-minute live performance on Science World’s main stage.

Explains Susan, “right now we are at a point where we have perfected our hands-on demos and they are running smoothly. I would like to develop the stage show a little more and have it become a regular feature at Science World. Hopefully it will encourage people to find out more about our Department and chemistry in general.” The stage show has been a highlight for the volunteers, whose first performance ran on Saturday, June 30th to a busy crowd. JM and Susan, alongside fellow performers Joanna De Witt, Yuan You and Lindsay Dykstra, entertained the large crowd with explosions, fire and even a disappearing act. It went over so well that Science World has already asked Susan to repeat the stage show next month.

While she may be the mastermind behind this initiative, Susan admits that she wasn’t always interested in outreach, “I didn’t realize how rewarding science outreach work was until I began my Teaching Assistantship at UBC and my involvement has really just expanded from there.” Susan is also a member of the Chemistry Department Outreach Committee, volunteers with Let’s Talk Science, and has recently taken on a leadership role in Vancouver’s Café Scientifique – a series of informal talks that allow the audience to learn about and discuss new ideas and issues in science and technology. In addition, she is in the early stages of developing chemistry projects for Science World’s Future Science Leaders program.

UBC Chemistry will be at Science World for more hands-on demos on the following dates:

Saturday, July 28th - Eureka Lab, 10:30am-1:30pm
Saturday, August 25th - Location TBD, 10:30am-1:30pm

*Chemistry shows are scheduled for both days and will start at 2:20pm on the Science World main stage.

View photos of UBC Chemistry at Science World

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If you would like to volunteer with UBC Chemistry at Science World, please contact Susan Vickers: .