Chemistry Project Challenges Students to Think Like Scientists

French philosopher Claude Levi-Strauss once said: “The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers; he is one who asks the right questions.” Twelfth graders in Advanced Chemistry learned to think like scientists by using their own questions as a starting point for a rigorous scientific research project.  

Teacher Hadda Ait Oukdim-Conte challenged her students to form a research project based on a personal topic of interest, and then design an experiment to test their findings. The young scientists investigated their topic using scientific journals, articles and other existing data. They then delved into the process of experimental design: selecting variables and controls, determining the nature and quantity of the samples, and analyzing the samples to draw meaningful conclusions.

“It’s been fun to see students so invested and engaged in their work,” says Hadda. Indeed, as these students saw firsthand, curiosity is the engine of scientific discovery!

Read on for a peek at some of the projects.

Romi K Chemistry Project

Romi K: Vitamin C Levels in Vegetables

What question were you trying to research? I was trying to learn the most effective way to cook vegetables to preserve the vitamin C content.

Inspiration: I’m interested in nutritional science, and am planning on majoring in nutrition in college.  

The process: I investigated the vitamin C levels in three different vegetables (bell peppers, broccoli and Brussels sprouts). First, I blended each vegetable. I cooked half of the puree in a microwave and left the rest raw. I then extracted the vitamin C to see the differing amounts of the nutrient between microwaved and raw vegetables.

What were the results? The data is still inconclusive, but I’m hoping that more testing and analysis will yield results.

Ed L Chemistry Project

Edward L: Algae Growth and the Ecosystem

What question were you trying to research? I wanted to find out what bolsters the growth of algae, and how algae blooms can harm the ecosystem.

Inspiration: I have a really strong interest in the ocean and want to pursue marine biology as a career path.

The process: I set up a series of bottles and added differing amounts of acid to see how the change in pH levels affected the growth of algae.

What were the results? If I used a very small amount of acid, there was more algae growth. It was interesting to see that a very slight change can actually help the growth of algae.

Eugene P Chemistry Project

Eugene P: Effect of Water Temperature on Caffeine

What question were you trying to research? I wanted to know whether the temperature at which you brew your coffee affects the amount of caffeine.

Inspiration: I’m fascinated by the connection between science and food. In fact, after taking a course called “The Chemistry of Food,” I was inspired to start Calhoun’s first cheese tasting club!

The process: I brewed coffee using water at different temperatures (95, 60 and 25 degrees Celsius), and then I used chemicals to extract the caffeine from the coffee. Next, I weighed the amount of caffeine particles in the coffee and compared it to the results at different temperatures.

What were the results? They were different than what I expected. I thought that at higher temperatures you would have less caffeine, since caffeine is an organic compound. But it turns out that the coffee brewed with water at 95 degrees resulted in the most caffeine.

Soren H Chemistry Project

Soren H: Acid Rain and Plant Damage

What question were you trying to research? I was trying to assess how acid rain affects different farm plants’ ability to germinate and produce food.

Inspiration: Acid rain is a huge – and growing – problem for agriculture, especially in places like China and Russia.

The process: I created an experiment that mirrored the effects of acid rain on three plants: basil, lettuce and Swiss chard. I separated the plants into seven petri dishes with three plant seedlings in each. I put a different level of acid in each petri dish, and used an additional petri dish with just water as the control group.

What were the results?  The Swiss chard was very vulnerable to acid rain – almost all of the plants died. Surprisingly, the basil and lettuce did very well, which gives me high hopes for the agriculture industry because these are both common crops.