ChemFest mixes students, educators & industries

By Scott Lundy, April 30

Chemistry of all kinds, including personal, was showcased at this spring’s ChemFest, which drew more than 300 chemistry students and their teachers from the greater Edmonton area to Telus World of Science (TWOS) Edmonton on April 29.

ChemFest’s goal is to show students and teachers from Grades 7 to 12 how classroom chemistry translates into real-world applications and fulfilling careers in the field. The event is usually held at the beginning of every school year, but TWOS Edmonton shifted the date this year to accommodate two major travelling exhibits.

Tech Futures, with its reps from the Alberta Biochar Initiative (ABI) and geekStarter, was one of a dozen organizations that took part in this highly interactive and informative event. EPCOR, Dow Chemical and Cenovus were on hand to represent Alberta-based industries, while the University of Alberta and NAIT added some ‘Campus Alberta’ flavour.

Tech Futures’ 
Tim Anderson (Thermochemical Processing) and Sarah Lee (geekStarter) spent five hours explaining how biochar is made, how it can be used as a soil amendment and for carbon sequestration, and the highlights of AITF’s geekStarter program – a program aimed at getting young Albertan scientists involved in synthetic biology. ABI Coordinator Alok Dhungana showed students a low-tech biochar cooker, helped them answer two skill-testing questions about biochar in their ChemFest passports and promoted ABI.

David Lloyd, geekStarter alumnus and mentor, was among those exhibitors who were impressed with the students’ enthusiasm and curiosity.

“ChemFest was a great experience to share synthetic biology and chemistry with some of Alberta’s bright young minds,” said David. “The students showed genuine interest in how science can be used to make the world a better place. They also expanded their knowledge of the different career opportunities that are available to them.”

As you’d expect, students expressed a wide range of opinions on ChemFest. Some were just grateful to get out of their classrooms for the day! Others appreciated learning more about the many ways chemistry is being used to improve our lives. Still others were excited at the prospect of a rewarding career in science and technology.

David Lloyd, geekStarter alumnus and mentor (centre), described the program and the annual International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition to dozens of interested students throughout the day.

Alok Dhungana, Alberta Biochar Initiative Coordinator (left), showed students and teachers how a low-tech biochar cooker can be used to cook food and at the same time produce biochar.

Neil Burkard, Education Officer with the City of Edmonton, was unofficially voted “Most Enthusiastic Presenter” by Tech Futures’ reps! Some of the technologies he described, including heavy biochar, have strong links to AITF and some of our industry partners.

Dow Chemicals’ Fort Saskatchewan facility sent a fun-loving team of young engineers and technologists to meet budding chemists and talk about their careers in chemistry.

Sadra Heidary-Monfared
, a chemical engineer with EPCOR (centre), described the various ways in which water is chemically treated at EPCOR’s water and wastewater treatment plants. 

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