SARASOTA – About two dozen teens and adolescents from the Sarasota YMCA Achievers’ program stopped by the USF Sarasota-Manatee Teaching Labs at Mote Marine Thursday morning where they made “elephant toothpaste” and peered through microscopes at marine life.
The three-hour workshop had the group divided between two laboratories where in one they examined sea life – from microscopic worms to jellyfish – and in the other they conducted fun chemistry experiments.
One child’s eyes widened during an exercise in which a concoction of dish soap, hydrogen peroxide, yeast and red food coloring produced a fascinating – and startling – reaction.
After combining the ingredients, a stream of pink foam suddenly emerged like toothpaste, or “elephant toothpaste,” from a plastic bottle, surprising the 11-year-old Rolando and his sister, Kassandra, 13, who quickly stepped back from the table.
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The soapy mixture turned out to be harmless, though, and youngsters soon were running their fingers through the foam. In other experiments, the children made “sea snakes,” essentially long jelly-like strands, and “funny putty” from Elmer’s glue, Borax, water and food coloring.
Organic chemistry instructor Dr. Edie Banner, who helped organize the three-hour, age-appropriate workshop, said the chemistry class was intended to get the children thinking about science and “understand the importance of education.”
“We want them to try new things, where they are touching and doing new things, including experiments and field work,” Dr. Banner said.
Earlier, Rolando and Kassandra, along with the other students, scooped up samples of water and sand from Sarasota Bay as well as from a saltwater pond on City Island where Mote is located. They labeled the samples and took them to the lab where, peering through microscopes, they looked for signs of life: tiny marine organisms such as worms, larvae and plankton, among others.
“Look closely, you can see things moving around,” Dr. Carlos Santamaria, another faculty member, told the group, who also got a close-up peek at two jellyfish, a sea urchin and a thumb-size, pink sponge – all collected from the shoreline of City Island.
“I find it exciting that these students can learn so much just from looking around. They don’t realize there is so much life around them, even in their own backyards,” said Dr. Christelle Bouchard, who also helped with the event. “Just a few miles away, in the bay, there is another universe to explore.”
The workshop was organized by faculty, staff and students from the USFSM Biology and Chemistry Clubs.
USF Sarasota-Manatee senior Priscilla Sosa, 22, who works with the YMCA, came to Banner a few weeks ago to suggest the workshop. Banner seized on the idea and quickly got to work recruiting faculty, staff and students and developing a menu of experiments.
Jaheim, 13, said he most enjoyed collecting the marine samples. Using a plastic cup attached to a long, plastic pole, he dislodged a small sponge from a piling just under the surface of the bay. Later, he examined the anatomy of the multicellular organism.
Considering a career in mechanical engineering prior to the morning session, Jaheim said afterward that he was now leaning toward a biology-related career.
“I might have to think about changing my major,” he said.