To many people, chemistry only involves bonding atoms, a thick textbook and a big headache at test time.
But once a year, the American Chemical Society seeks to broaden that viewpoint during National Chemistry Week. The goal is to bind businesses, schools and the local community, to put the spotlight on the importance of chemistry in everyday life.
At Fresno State this week, and year-round, that mission is realized in the chemistry department, by developing new service-learning experiences and innovative research, along with an award-winning Chemistry Club.
This year is the 25th annual National Chemistry Week and it celebrates nanotechnology.
Riding on the cutting edge at Fresno State is Jai-Pil Choi in his electrochemistry and nanotechnology laboratory.
Choi, who earned his doctorate from the University of Texas, said his primary research involves the development of gold nanoparticles that could be used for chemical or biological sensors.
Now, what is a nanoparticle?
To put in perspective, a single human hair averages 60,000 nanometers in width. The particles Choi is using are only one to two nanometers.
Choi said gold nanoparticles have properties completely different from bulk gold.
“Bulk gold is shiny; the nanoparticles are dark black,” Choi said. “Bulk gold doesn’t generate illuminesence, but once a nanoparticle is formed the illuminesence comes out and can be manipulated by changing its size.”
The most important aspect of gold nanoparticles, along with being inert and biocompatible, is its surface sensitive properties, Choi said.
“Depending on the surface environment of the nanoparticle, their physical properties could be changed,” Choi said. “These property changes can be used to detect specific concentrations of unknown samples, like in water quality monitoring devices.”
Choi said most people misunderstand and think nano-chemistry is a new technology, when in fact ancient alchemists were making gold nanoparticles during the Roman Empire around 400 C.E.
The chemistry department, leading the way in new service-learning opportunities for students, has developed a course, Chemistry 106, in conjunction with APPL Inc., a local environmental laboratory.
Through the generosity of Diane Anderson, Fresno State chemistry alumni and APPL president, students gain first-hand knowledge in a professional lab environment.
“The reason we are doing this is to promote science and get young people excited about science,” Anderson said.
Eric Person, Chemistry 106 instructor and former forensic scientist for the Washington State Patrol, said this course offers a unique experience, compared with a typical college lab.
During the course, students analyze drinking water samples for potential contaminants. The samples come from the Scout Island Outdoor Education Center in Fresno. Then they are examined using APPL equipment and EPA certified methods.
“We couldn’t help Scout Island, without using APPL’s equipment and methods,” Person said. “That partnership gives students something they can’t get anywhere else.
“This type of program doesn’t exist at most schools because most environmental labs wouldn’t allow this.”
Person said this course also gives APPL, and Anderson, a good look at potential new employees, and some students have already been hired from previous classes.
The Chemistry Club at Fresno State, under the guidance of Melissa Golden, her husband Donnie Golden, and Joy Goto, has gained national recognition.
The American Chemical Society has named the club its most outstanding chapter in the country each of the last three years, an award based on the outreach events by the club, at school and in the community.
Alicia Alfter, current club vice-president and former president, said the annual Kiss-A-Pig contest, the club’s primary fundraiser, will be held at 3 p.m. Friday in the Science II courtyard.
Students can donate money for their favorite professor to kiss a pig at the chemistry stock room in McLane Hall, Room 144, until 2 p.m. Friday. Ask for staff supervisor Donnie Golden.