Exploding pumpkins in the name of scientific education

By Megan Loock
Elm Staff Writer

As part of their annual fundraising events, the American Chemical Society and the Gamma Eta Chapter of the Gamma Sigma Epsilon Honor Society co-hosted their eighth annual Explosive Pumpkin Event on Wednesday, Oct. 27 in the McLain Atrium of the John S. Toll Science Center.

According to President of ACS senior Kyle Rufo, the event is designed to teach and raise awareness about the STEM field within the Washington College community while also getting into the Halloween spirit.

The event consisted of pumpkin painting for students and community members to participate in while waiting for the explosive demonstrations to start.

According to Rufo, the event is intended to partner with local Kent/Queen Anne’s County middle and elementary schools to introduce students to the sciences.

“[The experiments are] a way for students to see things that are happening and be like ‘Woah, that’s so cool,’ but also know the chemistry behind it,” Rufo said.

During the event, whiteboards were placed around the Atrium that had all the chemical reactions that were demonstrated at the event written out.

According to Lecturer in Chemistry Betsy Moyer-Taylor, the event originally started in 2010 with just pumpkins exploding and foaming under the supervision of former Associate Professor of Chemistry Dr. James Lipchock.

But as the event gained popularity within the campus community, “[Dr. Lipchock] amped up the explosive components every year to ‘get a bigger bang,’” Moyer-Taylor said.

The exploding and foaming pumpkins remain the main spectacle of the event but in order to keep the event new and exciting, they burned gummy bears in their demonstrations. In the past, the demonstrations included using dry ice as well as color-changing indicators.

All of these demonstrations were made possible by the bake sale that accompanied the event. Usually, according to Rufo, the ACS and the Gamma Eta Chapter of the Gamma Sigma Epsilon Honor Society partner with the local schools in this bake sale to raise money for science programs in public schools as well as to supplement the expenses it takes to obtain the necessary chemicals for their experiments.

This year, ACS was selling Halloween-themed treats such as Frankenstein Rice-Krispie treats and pretzels with chocolate witch hats on them.

According to Rufo, this money is important because experiments don’t always work on the first try. During the demonstrations, it took a few tries for Rufo and Vice President of the Gamma Eta Honor Society senior Michael Roseman to get the pumpkins to explode.

“We had previously tested all of [the experiments] before and they worked flawlessly. However, not all of them went without a hitch,” Roseman said. 

Roseman was unable to get the lighter to work, which caused the team to change the chemicals a couple times.

“I felt disappointed because we advertised it and said we would do them. However, I thought we were able to bounce back,” he said.

Rufo was able to get a new lighter for Roseman and the experiments were performed as planned.

Rufo also said that the ACS hopes that this event will return to the original caliber next year. “Every year, no matter who does it, everyone worries [the experiments] won’t work, someone will get hurt, or no one will come,” Moyer-Taylor said. However, “there’s never been a year that any of that has happened.”

Photo by Kayla Thornton

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