On Friday May 30th, my good friend Dr. Josefina Aldeco, my wife and I, visited a children’s home in Querétaro (central Mexico) and brought them a few cool chemistry experiments for a short show. This event was promoted by a non-profit organization called “Anímate a estudiar” (Dare to study), namely by Mrs. Paulina Milanés who is always looking for ways to encourage kids from poor backgrounds to pursue their goals through study; among other things, they provide backpacks with school supplies to orphan kids like the girls we visited.

As a way to inspire them, we handed each girl a balloon drawn in the shape of a brain and asked them to inflate them daily by reading; by doing their homework; by asking questions all the time; by working hard in pursuit of a brighter future for which their brains are the most powerful muscles.

Many reactions took place that Friday; not only inside the flasks and beakers before our little audience but also in their faces and their engagement with us. Little by little these girls got out of their shells and became more excited, up to the point of performing their own chemical reaction themselves by polymerizing some glue with borax in hot water. This was for sure the first time they got in contact with chemistry but the true goal was to set up a spark in their minds that one day may turn into a life opportunity. We are aware that one small chemistry show can’t really have that effect, but if many more scientists reach out to these kids there is a bigger chance of creating a ripple effect that convince disenfranchised children that studying is the way to take the wheel of their own future.

Science is about development; its about spreading knowledge and the love for knowledge. Although we most times sit high on our ivory towers it is paramount to remember that there is also a social component to the scientific activity. Kids are eager to learn, but most school systems do their very best to limit their curiosity and ambition. We hope these girls find in studying a way to a better, happier and safer future. Mexico has a large economic disparity; climbing the social ladder is very hard and even more so for women which makes these girls a very vulnerable social group in the next generation.

It only takes one day. One day and some potassium iodide; some mentos on a diet-coke (sorry, Gina, for the squirt!); some cobalt chloride on paper; some balloons some glue and some borax in hot water. But above all it takes a big commitment.

I hope you readers, computational and experimental chemists alike, take some time out of your busy schedules and share your passion for science with kids, specially those with the lowest opportunities of getting in touch with real scientists. You can also contribute to this noble effort by making a small pay-pal donation to www.animateaestudiar.org or to any other similar organization in your local community.

It only takes one day.


P.S. Thanks to Josefina from Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro for providing material and reagents. Please go and check out her blogs (here and here) and encourage her to write more often! (Did I mention she published in Science a few years ago?)