Fire swirling up like a tornado: Chemistry can be fun

Wednesday , March 25, 2015 - 10:01 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

LAYTON – University of Utah chemical engineering students lit up one of the science classrooms at Northridge High School on Monday with fire swirling up into a tornado formation, making liquid boil using only the heat from their hands, creating waves in by rubbing their hands on the handles of a water bowl, and making smoke circles with a garbage can.

With each experiment, the students were asked how to explain the chemical reactions that occur.

“These modules use cool physics, fluid dynamics, and heat transfer. By understanding the principles in these experiences we can use them to help design better processes, such as making fuel more efficient,” University of Utah PhD student Kyle Branch said.

Branch didn’t even know chemical engineering existed when he was in high school, but thanks to his AP chemistry teacher who suggested Branch look into the possibility, it became a reality. “In chemical engineering, we have the opportunity for a lot of hands-on opportunities and I can go into something that can help change the world,” Branch said.

University of Utah chemical engineering student Katherine Roberts explained to the students how one of their chemical engineering classes is trying to make renewable energy sources using algae.

The college students are a part of an outreach group that travels around Top of Utah showing students the possibilities in chemical engineering.

“I like the idea of showing kids that this is a possibility, and they have the potential – they just need to realize it is available,” University of Utah chemical engineering students Collin Hoggard said. “Before I decided what I wanted to be, I didn’t even know this existed until one of my teachers told me all of the great things chemical engineers get to do. The same is probably true for a lot of high school students.”

Hoggard told students practically every industry is in need of chemical engineers, including the making of soda pop, toilet paper, make-up, oil, and even the rubber in basketballs.

Northridge Senior Kalani Chavarria attended the presentation thinking it would be interesting, not realizing it might change her career path. “I came to see what different options there are with science. I originally wanted to go into the medical field studying physical therapy, but after seeing this, it’s made me think about other medical options,” Chavarria said.

Branch talked to students about all of the scholarship opportunities for students interested in chemical engineering. “There is no other time in your life you will make $1,000 in one hour by filling out an application and an essay,” Branch said, suggesting interested students visit the University of Utah Chemical Engineering website for scholarship applications. “Some schools don’t even give out all of their scholarship money because people don’t apply.”

Senior Austin Reynolds came to the presentation interested in seeing what chemical engineers actually do. “My plan is to be a pharmacist, but this is an option I definitely need to look into because of what they make and what they really do,” Reynolds said after hearing that chemical engineers can make between $80,000 to $100,000 a few years after graduation.

For more information about the outreach group, visit

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