Englewood Students Find the Star Power in Zn, Na and P in NorthJersey.com

May 12, 2011 - Englewood, NJ

By Mike Curley, Staff Writer

Three groups of students from the Dwight-Englewood School were among the winners of the It’s Elemental video contest, which had teams of students from across the country creating educational videos based around the elements of the periodic table.

The contest, sponsored by Dow Chemical and the Chemical Heritage Foundation, was held to commemorate 2011’s being the International Year of Chemistry by the United Nations. The students brought the school a $5,000 grant through their efforts, which will be used to buy science equipment.

Over 120 schools in 36 states participated in the contest, with 687 videos being submitted. Katie Hunt, director of innovation sourcing and sustainable technologies at Dow, said the challenge was for students to pick one element and create a three-to-five-minute video addressing the properties of that element and the uses it has in every day life.

“The object of International Year of Chemistry is about engaging the public and the next generation in the excitement and importance of chemistry,” she said, “That’s why the themes of the video were to connect the chemistry to important things in our everyday life.”

Nancy Males and Marco Pagnotta were the faculty members who coordinated the students’ effort.

“We’re really proud of them,” Males said, adding that it was the first year Dwight-Englewood had entered a competition like this. The ninth-grade students, she said, primarily did the projects on their own.

In all, 20 entries were sent in from Dwight-Englewood and 42 from New Jersey.

“This was quite an honor for us,” Pagnotta said. He said the school would be very interested in participating in such a contest next year.

“This set the bar high for our students,” he said, “It shows what they can do when they put their minds to it.” The three winning groups did their projects on sodium, phosphorus and zinc.

Gary Finn, who worked on the sodium video, said it was based around the Superhero Sodium idea of one of his teammates. “It just made so much sense,” he said. He added they did sodium, whose symbol is Na, because as part of table salt it is an element present in everyday life.

“I thought it was a really great experience,” he said, adding that he likes projects like this. He added he was surprised to learn, during research, how dangerous sodium can be.

“We eat it,” he said, “so it being dangerous was really a shocker.”

Jamie Spingeld, who was in the phosphorus group, said the element was chosen because it glows in the dark. The group began by doing a lot of research after school, she said, adding that it was a lot of fun.

The strangest thing she learned about phosphorus, symbol P, she said, was that it was discovered by an alchemist who was trying to find a way to get gold from urine.

“I thought it was gross,” she said, “but pretty interesting.”

Winning the contest, she said, felt good and was a boost to her confidence. She added that she thought it was cool that the videos, which are posted online, will be seen by people all over the country and used as resources.

Alexa Kaufman and Maeve O’Brien, who did their video on zinc, known to the periodic table as Zn, said they picked their element because it’s a useful one and common in every-day life.

O’Brien, whose cousin provided backup vocals for the video, said they decided to do theirs as a rap parody, inspired by other music videos they’d seen.

“It surprised us how it was used throughout history,” she said of zinc, including by doctors in ancient Roman who used it in medicine. Today, Kaufman said, zinc is also found in acne medication. When they first entered the contest, O’Brien said, they were very motivated to win, and worked hard on their project. So far, their video has among the highest number of hits online.

“We worked really hard and spent a lot of time on this. We’re really happy that we won,” she said, “We learned a lot making it, and it’s good to share what we learned with other people in a creative way.”

“Watching these videos renewed my faith in the future,” Hunt said, “We have some budding chemists on the way.”

All the videos are available on Chemical Heritage’s Web site at chemheritage.org.

E-mail: curley@northjersey.com or call 201-894-6705

Link to NorthJersey.com.

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