Science on the menu at Mt. Airy’s Earth Bread + Brewery

Chemistry is a rather complex science, and getting young children to learn about it is not always an easy thing. Dr. Fred Schaefer an Associate Professor of Physical Analytical Chemistry at the University of the Sciences, and has found a way that works well with kids.

To the kids he is known as Dr. Fred, and he gets their attention using tabletop science experiments at public places.  

On the night of August 14th on the second floor of Earth Bread + Brewery in Mt. Airy, Schaefer stood at a table with his science experiments ready to go. 

One includes making gooey worms by mixing sodium alginate, calcium and food coloring. “They can try and make it themselves,” said Schaefer.

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Another experiment Schaefer shows how he inflates marshmallows in a tube. He pumps oxygen in and out of the marshmallow kids can watch it expand and deflate on cue.

Other experiments he tried included a light powered by a pickle battery and a bottle of water containing a device inside that would float or sink on command.

But children are not the only people who like his tabletop science. To show the power of chemical reactions, the professor shows how to turn sugar to ash. He mixes sulfuric acid with sugar, which then turns to a rising foam that expands to turn into a black charred appearance. 

Schaefer admits he has a different approach to teaching. He says these experiments help people think about why things work the way they do rather than just getting students to memorize facts and formulas. His approach targets people’s normal curiosity. “It’s not all that difficult…you see what interests them, and what doesn’t.”

He says it’s important that people understand a little about analytical chemistry because it can help solve many of the world’s major challenges such as better understanding how pollution spreads in the modern world or in developing pharmaceutical drugs that can help people fight illnesses.

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