Girl Scouts discover the Magic of Chemistry at MU

Saturday, November 3, 2007 | 5:09 p.m. CDT; updated 2:23 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Counselor Cheryl Ragan talks about the M&M Chromatography experiment results with Girl Scouts attending the Magic of Chemistry workshop at the MU Chemistry building Saturday. "All the girls kept commenting about my pencils and my post-it notes," said Ragan, a 2nd year graduate student at MU.

COLUMBIA — Six different colored M&M’s lie in a carefully placed row on the experiment station counter. Green, yellow, orange, red and blue. Brown is placed to the side.

Girl Scouts Mallory Bolerjack, 11, and Xarria Lewis, 10, think brown is the color that will travel the farthest up the paper in an experiment to separate the colors on M&M’s candy coating.

“I think it will go the farthest because it has the most colors,” Bolerjack said.

“And it’s the darkest,” Lewis added.

The girls rubbed the M&M’s with wet toothpicks and placed a dot of candy color on the paper. Then, placing the paper in water, they watched the colors rise.

“Blue went all the way to the top,” Bolerjack said with surprise.

“Brown has all the colors in it,” Lewis confirmed.

While some children were sleeping in or watching cartoons at 9 a.m. Saturday, 150 fourth- to sixth-grade Girl Scouts spent their morning conducting color experiments in chemistry as part of the Magic of Chemistry program at MU.

The program, now in its tenth year, provides educational workshops to Girl Scouts from the 18-county Heart of Missouri Council.

“Over the ten years we’ve had the program we’ve done some surveys,” said Sheryl Tucker, program coordinator. “Roughly 70 percent of girls have professed more interest in science after the program.”

Tucker, an MU chemistry professor, created the program in 1998. Tucker wanted to make a program that would spark girls’ interest in the field since national studies have found that middle school girls show little interest in science.

“To me, (Girl Scouts) seemed like the perfect venue: it’s an excellent community organization, and I was a Girl Scout many years ago.” Tucker said. “A lot of times community organizations are not thought about but they are really rich venues for diverse populations and are a lot of times in need of programs.”

With the help of more than 1,500 volunteers, Magic of Chemistry has served more than 2,500 Junior Girl Scouts in 10 years.

Three different workshops, Case of the Unsigned Letter, Fun with Polymers and the Chemistry of Color, rotate annually, allowing girls to attend the program multiple times.

In Saturday’s Chemistry of Color workshop the girls solved color mysteries at four stations. They colored cotton with fiber-reactive dyes, separated the colors on M&M’s, used pH standards to make a color chart from household items and used gold indicator paper to reveal a secret message.

Bolerjack and Lewis, fifth-graders at Ridgeway Elementary School, said though they couldn’t eat their M&M’s, the experiments made them more interested in science. They don’t get to do experiments like these at school.

“Our science teacher is cool but she’s not that cool,” Lewis said. “We got to play with acids, it was pretty cool.”

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