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Students Take Chemistry into Their Own Hands

Dr. Donaghy’s students get creative
12/6/2011

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Students in ESF general chemistry classes got a chance to exercise their creativity this semester, baking and building their way to a better understanding of everyday chemistry.

Assistant Professor Kelly Donaghy, who teaches general chemistry to freshmen and sophomores, said she gave the students an open-ended assignment so they could pursue a project in their individual fields.

"They have to investigate the chemistry," Donaghy said. "One of the biggest things that we look at in our course is the fact that chemistry is everywhere and so I ask them to go out and have fun with chemistry and then to actually understand the processes, the reaction chemistry and so on."

Freshman Michael Walczyk and sophomore Marcus Moore of Margaretville, both construction management majors, called their project "A Periodic Picnic Table of the Elements." They made a picnic table out of white pine with the periodic table carved into the top.

"I constructed the table, put it all together, routed it out, did all the sketching on the top," Walczyk said. "And then Marcus used the polyurethane, painted the letters in and did the paper and explained the process about how each part was done."

Walczyk said he had never made a picnic table before building this one.

"I kind of just winged that," he said. "But woodworking and construction, that's my niche."

Moore said the pair's paper delved into the chemistry involved in the use of stain and polyurethane, the structure and physical properties of wood "and how everything comes together to make it one final, nice project."

Projects dropped off in Donaghy's lab included a periodic table made from nine different types of inlaid wood. Others were made from pebbles, cupcakes and slices of cake frosted with a variety of colors, depending on what group of elements was represented.

But not all the projects involved the periodic table.

There was also a small piece of wooden furniture, perfect for use next to a chair, big enough to hold a steaming mug of a favorite beverage. On it was a depiction of the chemical structure of caffeine: a "coffee table."

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