ChemFriends Expo shows parish students wonders of chemistry

Aaron E. Looney
Darrell Chris, a chemisty professor at Southern University, shows sixth graders from Prairieville Primary School how certain chemicals cause others to change colors during the annual ChemFriends Expo Wednesday at the Gonzales Civic Center.

Sixth graders from Prairieville Primary School watched intently as Southern University chemisty professor Darrell Chris held the bottle of blue liquid in his hand.

As he slammed the bottle onto a table, the liquid quickly turned yellow, leaving some of the students gathered in awe and asking what caused the transformation.

Chris’ demonstration was one of many held during the 10th annual ChemFriends Expo event, held over two days at the Gonzales Civic Center.

Wednesday, sixth grade students from across the parish converged on the center to view demonstrations from various chemical industry representatives, many from Ascension Parish chemical plants. The event concluded with a community night program Thursday, which was open to the public.

Participants in this year’s event include Air Products, Ascension Parish Government, the Ascension Parish School Board, BASF, CF Industries, Dupont, the Gonzales Fire Department, Honeywell, Lion Copolymer, Motiva, OxyChem, PCS Nitrogen, Rubicon, Shell Chemicals, the Southern University Chemistry Department and Williams.

“We’re want to show these sixth graders that chemistry holds a valuable role in how the world works,” said Richard Bergeron, director of the event.

Bergeron said that he antcipated matching last year’s total of 1,700 students visiting the event, with another 600 expected to visit during the community night event.

Experiments from the event are offered to area teachers so they can recreate them in their own school laboratories. In addition, many participating companies offer “road shows,” where they visit schools to discuss science and chemistry and perform experiments.

ChemFriends was launched in 1997 in Gonzales to raise the awareness and interest of science and chemistry in students and the community through the collaborative effort of local chemical companies, educators, government, and business professionals. The expo typically contains 16 different booths of demonstrations where groups of students spend about 15 minutes listening to presenters and participating in hands-on experiments wherever possible. The students also received a zipper bag with school tools as they exited the event.

Bergeron said that ChemFriends has become so popular, many of the students attending have told him they look forward to it.

“There was one student who told me that he couldn’t wait to come to ChemFriends,” Bergeron said. “He was so excited. That’s the kind of excitement and anticipation we want to generate here. Our high school students who work as helpers have all been through the program before too.”

Bergeron said that schools from outside of the parish have inquired about attending the event, but he said the size of the event warrants keeping it in Ascension Parish schools.

“A lot of schools have asked me if they can bring their kids,” Bergeron said. “While I’d love to have them, it’s just not feasible with the space we have here. We’re pretty full up. I’ve talked to them about possibly starting up their own event. I’d be glad to see such an interest in chemistry grow to other areas as well.”