Sparking a positive reaction

Education | Katie Hung 14 May 2019

Dozens of kids sitting downstage with their parents concentrated on watching balloons being inflated. But this was neither a magic show nor a game show.

It was science, where one utilizes juices, or vinegar, and bicarbonate of soda to pump up the balloons which were stretched over the flasks.

The experiment was one of the activities from this year's HK SciFest held in late April at the Hong Kong Science Museum, which was also one of the two segments from the chemical corporation BASF Kid's Lab program targeted at those who are aged 6 to 12.

The interactive show, which invited a few children to go on stage to take part in the experiment, taps into the topic of acids and bases as well as the reduction-oxidation reaction between acids and bicarbonate of soda, or better known as baking soda.

The resulting chemical reaction is the creation of carbon dioxide, or CO2, which inflates the balloon.

"We would like to tell kids that different kinds of juices we drink everyday has different acidity," said the host Joseph Hui, also BASF's Asia Pacific intermediates business development senior manager.

"Since we add the same amount of bicarbonate of soda, the bigger the balloon is, the more acid it has inside."

The application of this reaction can also be seen in our everyday lives like in bread-making, he added. It is the CO2 brought out by adding bicarbonate of soda that makes the dough rise while the baking process helps it to swell up to become bread.

The program's other segment, the experiment workshop, introduces kids to the theme of enzyme reactions by making the traditional Chinese dessert, ginger milk curd. The food experiment shows how protease in ginger reacts with soluble protein in milk to cause coagulation during the pouring of hot milk into the juice.

Some of the participants were given other fruits like oranges and tomatoes to use in comparison.

Student mentor Danny Wong, a year-four Hong Kong University of Science and Technology chemistry student, recalled he barely did any experiments in primary school. It was not until secondary three did he start to study this subject at school and conduct similar types of experiments.

The ginger milk curd experiment has a similar level of difficulty to the ones Wong conducted in secondary school. Though the kids did the experiment at a much earlier age, he thinks it is also relatively easy to handle.

"It showcases the physical changes of the solutions so kids can see the changes made from A (liquid state) to B (coagulated state) . The procedure is quite safe and fun, and also less complicated."

The participating primary six student Diane Wong, who is interested in science and has even subscribed to a few science magazines catered to children, agrees that there is little to no opportunity to conduct experiments at school, adding that they do not perform even a single experiment throughout the school year.

It was her first time discovering that science can be fun through the workshop.

"We are only reading textbooks in our general studies lessons (the subject that teaches general understanding to various aspects like society and science in the local primary school curriculum), and then memorizing the book for exams," she said. "But it turns out science is not all about reading a book. I can get my hands dirty."

BASF representative Daisy Lam, the Asia Pacific head of marketing communications, brand management and corporate affairs, is hoping that the program can help plant seeds in children's minds at an early stage so to spark their interest and ignite the children's passion for science.

She believes that once children are given a taste of what science is truly about, it will cause them to become more interested and will give them the motivation to discover more and conduct research out of their own volition.

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