- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 21, 2016

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) - Ximena Molina isn’t your average Harry Potter fan.

She has seen all the movies, knows all the characters and can tell you every fact.

The 16-year-old’s eyes light up when she talks about the characters in the books and the movies. It might surprise you that her favorite character is professor Severus Snape, reported the Gillette News Record (https://bit.ly/2hQT32S).

“He surprises everyone,” she said. “I love him so much.”

Her reasoning for that is because he seems like a dark and scary character, but he’s always there protecting Harry and, if you know the books and the movies, it turns out that he loved Harry’s mother, Lily. That’s why he’s always lurking somewhere in the back scenes watching Harry.

Molina’s love for Harry Potter was one of the reasons why she signed up when she heard that Gear Up was sponsoring a Harry Potter-themed day of chemistry in a lab at Gillette College.

Twelve students in all took part in an afternoon of experiments, which created magical-looking reactions before one’s eyes.

Not only did they enjoy Harry Potter-themed food - including golden snitch cake pops, Luna Lovegood’s pudding, Hagrid’s stoat sandwiches and sorting hat cookies - beforehand, students created experiments that appeared to be magic during the afternoon.

“We’re going to do a lot of magical stuff,” Sherri Adams said at the beginning of the class with the students in seventh to 12th grade. Adams is professor and head of the chemistry department at the college.

As a hand-made sparkler flared up for a demonstration in the corner of the chemistry lab, Adams told the students they were going to make their own sparklers, or wands, if you prefer.

From there, the students started mixing their solutions into beakers. They mixed dextrin and water, waiting for it to get goopy, hard and created an interesting scent. Sisters Danica and Shawna Howland, 14 and 13, remarked that it smelled like a farm.

Eventually, they smeared the gray solution over a thin metal wire, and stuck them in an oven.

At the end of their afternoon in the lab, they got to light their handmade wands and watch them flare.

Adams said the wands were the first things she had thought of when Kristin Young, the Gear Up Wyoming site coordinator for Campbell, Sheridan and Johnson counties, contacted her, wanting to host the event and have it be Harry Potter themed.

That idea came from the most recent Harry Potter book that was released and Young noticed that was something that sparked students’ interests.

Then she realized that she could use it as a learning adventure for some of her students. She could have them create things that are like magic but actually use science. Those things would expose them to a college classroom environment and get them possibly thinking about careers in a science-related field.

“I’m always looking for fun ways that students can be exposed to careers that maybe they haven’t thought of,” Young said.

She also wanted to plan a memorable experience for her students.

“We wanted to do something chemistry related to create something magical.”

While their wands were baking, students learned how to write with electricity, using a copper wire as a pen that was run through a pipette and attached to a battery. The writing came out pink on a piece of filter paper.

The Howland sisters had to capture on video each other making ornaments for their Christmas tree at home. They were curious about actually being able to see the reaction that was taking place between the silver nitrate, ammonium nitrate, dextrose and sodium hydroxide.

“I’m scared,” Danica said as she swirled her solution around and around in the clear glass ornament.

But then that’s when the magic happened. The icky brown and black solution that was swirling in the bottom of the ornament, started to coat the sides of the bulb.

Perhaps that was because sometimes experiments don’t yield the same results. Maybe she thought she had added too much of the silver nitrate or not enough. She had measured it, but with chemistry experiments, one never knows.

“If you don’t do it in this order, it won’t work,” Adams said pointing to a pink sheet of paper with the instructions clearly printed out on it.

Eventually, it turned a blackish color and then, students were admiring their reflections in the ornaments. The entire reaction only took about three minutes, if that. And that reaction is actually a smaller version of how silver mirrors are made.

“That is sick,” some of the students yelled out in awe of the change in color of the ornaments.

And they saved the best for last.

Chance Knighten, 14, was picked to mix together a few dry chemicals. When all were watching, he simply added two drops of water, and the chemicals flared up to create fireworks.

The green-blue flame only lasted for about 45 seconds, but it captured their attention.

Their afternoon ended with all of the students finally igniting their wands. One-by-one they lit the wands and watched as they flared up and sparks flew from them.

All eyes - and cellphones - were on the spectacle of light and fire as they flared. It was certainly something they wouldn’t have been able to do had they stayed home.

None were sure if they wanted to do something science-related as a career, but it may have sparked an interest in a science-related field.


Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, https://www.gillettenewsrecord.com

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