Issue Date: February 21, 2011
Water, Water Everywhere
Water is one of the most fascinating substances on Earth. Clean water is also one of the most important, if not the most important, natural resources for human existence.
Water fascinates chemists for reasons we all know. I recently was reading something—I can’t remember what—that called water “that most curious solvent.” And, indeed, it is a very curious compound, just as living creatures, all of them as much water-based as carbon-based, are curious entities.
But water fascinates long before one is aware of its distinct chemical properties. I’ve never met a kid, myself included, who wasn’t drawn to water in all its forms. When my two sons, Michael and Greg, were young, you could be sure that an outing would be a success if it involved exposure to a body of water, whether it was an ocean, a lake, a river, or a small stream in the forest. As for snow and ice, well, the possibilities are endless.
The attraction of water for young people and its remarkable chemical properties are the basis for The Global Chemistry Experiment for the International Year of Chemistry (IYC) 2011. The experiment, really four experiments, is called “Water: A Chemical Solution,” and the IYC 2011 organizers—the International Union of Pure & Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO)—hope that it could become the biggest chemistry experiment ever conducted. It’s set to kick off on March 22, which is World Water Day.
As we have been repeating since the beginning of the year, IYC 2011 is a global celebration of the achievements of chemistry and its contributions to the well-being of humanity. Under the unifying theme “Chemistry—Our Life, Our Future,” IYC 2011 is offering a range of interactive and educational activities for all ages.
“Water: A Chemical Solution” is a set of four simple experiments designed “to entice students around the world to learn about how chemistry contributes to one of the most important resources in their daily lives,” according to an IYC 2011 white paper on the experiments. The experiments can be carried out by children of all ages and use equipment that is available at little or no cost.
Two experiments focus on measuring water quality. In the first, students will measure the pH of a local body of water using indicator solutions and pH meters if they are available. The results will be reported to a database for display on a global map. In the second, students will explore the salinity of their local water body. The tests they will perform will include measurement of the mass of material remaining after evaporation of the water, an estimate of the salinity based on a homemade conductivity device calibrated for sodium chloride, and a reportable measurement of salinity.
The other two experiments focus on water purification and treatment. In one experiment, students will start with local natural surface water and replicate one or both of the two main steps of drinking water treatment—filtration and disinfection. In the other experiment, students will construct a solar still from household materials and experiment with its use to purify water.
Teachers, ACS members, and others who are interested can learn more about “Water: A Chemical Solution” at the IYC 2011 website, www.chemistry2011.org. The site has videos on the global experiment, details on all four experiments, the white paper that details the rationale behind the experiments, and a link to the website of the global experiment (water.chemistry2011.org) where teachers can register to receive more information.
According to Nancy Blount of the ACS Office of Public Affairs, “The call to action to our members is to get the word of the global experiment to teachers in your community. Send them the link to the website and, if possible, offer your services if a teacher needs help in carrying out the activities.”
Thanks for reading. And for volunteering to help with The Global Chemistry Experiment.
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