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Everyday Science

Students exhibit creativity and communication skills in chemistry class

Chemistry isn’t a topic that often comes up in everyday conversation, but a group of ONU chemistry students are working to change that.

Dr. Amelia Anderson-Wile, associate professor of chemistry, knows that scientists have specific subject-matter knowledge, which they can usually communicate to other scientists in their field with little difficulty. It’s much harder to explain the science behind something to someone who’s not a scientist. That’s why communicating with non-scientists became one of the central objectives to Polymer Chemistry, a special elective course Anderson-Wile taught during fall semester 2017.

Polymers are more recognizable by their common names: plastic, nylon, rubber and silicone, to name a few. There was plenty of chemistry-specific content to be learned, but interwoven throughout the course’s syllabus was the pervasive theme of communication – a skill that often challenges scientists.

It’s not necessarily something we scientists always do a particularly great job of, and since this is an elective class, I thought it was a really good place for us to spend time on science communication,” Anderson-Wile says. “We had a lot of activities in the class that were geared to delivering content to people who don’t necessarily know all the background of what the students are talking about.

The course culminated in a final project that had students re-purpose polymer materials into creative projects. They then gave a final presentation of their projects using explanatory posters, which was open to and well attended by the campus community.

The projects encompassed everything from a light saber to a guitar stand, using everything from plastic spoons to PVC pipe. Each project allowed its creator to showcase his or her creative flair, a unique opportunity for a student in a chemistry class.

The class as a whole was unconventional, but it was also extremely fun. It proved to be a great blend of academic content, creativity and awareness. The students learned not only something new and interesting, but also that chemistry can indeed be relatable to real life. 

It was definitely a different type of chemistry class,” says Nicole Braunscheidel, a junior chemistry major from Avon, Ohio. “What I liked about the class was you get to learn the science, but then you also get to know how it’s used in everyday objects. In some other classes, the content is so specific that it’s hard to explain to people who are not in the science field. With polymers, I can relate my information, and it’s easier for anyone to understand.

Of all the ways chemistry affects our daily lives, polymers may be one of the most prevalent. Most of us use polymer material every day, without ever thinking about the science behind it. For the students who took Polymer Chemistry, studying that science has edified their educations, but learning to share the science that they’re so passionate about with anyone – that’s a takeaway that’s just as valuable.