Science Wednesday: US EPA at Inaugural U.S. Science & Engineering Festival – Safe Chemicals

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Maureen Gwinn

As someone who enjoys doing scientific outreach, the U.S. Science & Engineering Festival was like a dream come true! Kids interested in science, or parents who want their kids to be interested in science, flocking to the National Mall to learn more about science was an amazing opportunity to engage kids in something I love.

There were science-based performances, games and activities, all geared to showing the fascinating and fun side of science.  This festival was in response to the steadily decreasing leadership role of the U.S. in science, which the organizers hoped to change by stimulating an interest in science for kids at a young age.

For our part, the EPA brought some interactive modules to showcase the role of science in our work at the Agency.

Assessing the safety of chemicals is a big part of what we do at EPA, and we engaged kids to help us determine what caused the reactions when mixing simple, everyday chemicals (baking soda, rock salt, water).

Kids were amazed to see that mixing these simple chemicals together (along with a pH indicator) led to a change in temperature, created a gas and changed colors.  We set out to teach kids about the importance of understanding chemicals and how they interact with each other and the environment, and from their responses also showed them their potential to be future scientists.

About the Author: Maureen is a toxicologist with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, where she works in human health risk assessment to understand the toxicity of environmental chemicals. Maureen is also the K-12 Task Force lead for the Society of Toxicology, and often volunteers in education outreach.

Note: Give it a try! You can download instructions to try the “Baggie Science” demonstration

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