Techniquest Glyndwr – a North Wales science centre – used a grant from the Outreach Fund to engage new audiences with everyday chemistry.
By Rhianna Jones
"Does chemistry matter?" For many audiences ordinarily disengaged with chemistry, this question may well evoke a resounding ‘no’. They might imagine the chemistry of the classroom, surrounded by textbooks and equations, weekly tests and end-of-year exams, and wonder how it could possibly ever be relevant to them. They have never been presented with an opportunity to learn in an accessible way that every day, every minute, they are engaging with chemistry – when they drink their morning coffee, when they wash their hair, when they brush their teeth. As the study of all matter, chemistry is in constant, unperceived use – and that is the message presented by the "Does Chemistry Matter?" project.
"Does Chemistry Matter?" was run by Techniquest Glyndwr, a North Wales science centre and registered charity, from November 2018 to July 2019, and was made possible by the generous funding provided by the Royal Society of Chemistry. The project aimed to reach families of all ages, though particularly those typically remote from STEM subjects, by presenting chemistry through hands-on activities that would encourage participants to further consider its impact on their day-to-day lives.
The project proved an absolute success amongst participants, especially younger audiences. They were able to physically participate in experiments and were encouraged as such to consider chemistry’s everyday uses and effects. They conducted litmus paper tests to lead into a discussion of the acidity or alkalinity of everyday substances, and played sorting games based around the states of matter. The most popular exercise by far, however, was their introduction to substances that didn’t fit into these states of matter, which saw them creating their own non-Newtonian substance: slime.
This project presented chemistry – a perhaps previously daunting subject for our audiences – as entirely accessible, and in the returned feedback forms there was nothing but praise. Though many of the comments were (as expected) written in excited, childlike scrawls about how wonderful the slime had been, what was most encouraging was the quantitative evidence gathered from participants. On a scale of 'a lot' to 'not at all', 100% of respondents to the feedback forms selected 'a lot' for their level of enjoyment of the show, and 92% also selected 'a lot' for their interest in further learning about chemistry in their everyday lives.
For the people we reached through this project, it appears that Techniquest Glyndwr has succeeded undeniably – with the generous help of the RSC – in igniting a previously unkindled interest in chemistry in our audiences. The participants, despite their previous disengagement, now have a curiosity for and knowledge of the chemistry that goes unseen and unnoticed every day, and as such we feel that this project has been a complete success.
But our hopes for this project transcend even what we have achieved within the lifespan of "Does Chemistry Matter?". The funds afforded to us by the RSC have allowed us to invest in equipment and the development of new demonstrations which will continue to be a part of many future events to come. As Techniquest Glyndwr undergoes a drastic rebrand and change in location, the opportunities offered to our centre as a result of this project will undoubtedly breathe into us new life, and allow the importance of chemistry to be relayed to new audiences for many years to come.