Monday, April 18, 2016

Exeter-Milligan Updtae: E-M Chemistry is Going Organic!

E-M Chemistry is Going Organic!
By Matt Nicholas, Exeter-Milligan Science Instructor

As the year starts to wind down, the students of EMHS are eager to get outside and play. They are excited to compete in many spring outdoor activities including golf, track, and trap. If you are like me, just thinking about getting outside makes your brain swirl with the memories of flowers, fresh cut grass, and gunpowder. We can barely remember these smells after the long winter, but with spring upon us the smells return. Also, if you are like me you know that the warm weather brings some smells we would rather live without. A nice warm breeze passing over a feed lot, a musty pond full of decomposing plant material, or a skunk that wandered too close to the road to name a few. What do all of these smells have in common? 

Many of the aforementioned smells are the result of organic molecules called esters. Esters are one of the many classes of organic compounds that we are studying in this unit. We are also studying alcohols, ketones, and hydrocarbons. Many of these simple organic molecules are ever-present in our daily lives. Ethanol is an alcohol that contains 2 atoms of carbon. We have been naming, drawing, and building similar substances for several weeks now. Ella, Trystan, and Katie are shown analyzing butane, a hydrocarbon commonly found in everyday lighters. When a simple hydrocarbon has a certain group of atoms called a hydroxyl group added to it, it becomes an alcohol. So, the butane that the students are viewing would become a butanol.

These simple hydrocarbons pale in comparison to the size and range of use that large polymers, chains of thousands of carbons, have. These include any type of plastic you can think of and most synthetic fibers. Rayon, polyester, PVC, and Kevlar are some of the better-known examples. Learning about these and other modern materials and processes will better prepare our students for the tech jobs of the future as well as hands-on jobs. If you have ever wondered what makes a grill work or why most clothes aren't made of cotton, just ask your local E-M organic chemist.

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