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MAC Chemistry is Pouring Out

Chemistry instructors, Dr. Margaret Williams, Dr. Nathan Calkins and Charles Limbaugh, discuss the structure of the oxygen molecule and the upcoming changes in the chemistry labs.
Our world is changing at an enormous pace and chemistry is at the heart of it all.  Chemistry is often called “The Central Science” because it bridges all the other sciences.  Understanding the how and the why, which are the questions chemists seek to answer, enables us to better care for our environment while trying to feed the planet, build better roads and cleaner cars, and develop more effective medicines.  Chemistry provides the tools and answers allowing us to be more informed consumers and decision makers.  

Chemistry instructor Dr. Margaret Williams explains, “Chemistry has always been an integral part of any student’s curriculum.  Even if students have never taken a class with ‘chemistry’ in its name, they have seen and studied some chemistry.  Somewhere dispersed within the science class curriculum, students learned about atoms with electrons, protons and neutrons.  They have heard about acids, bases, and buffers and their respective roles in our lives.  They have studied how temperature changes the pressure in a tire or the volume of a balloon.  Chemistry is taught in every science class, it is ‘The Central Science’ after all.”  

“Chemistry is seen by many as this incomprehensible or irrelevant subject,” elaborates Dr. Nathan Calkins, Margaret’s chemistry teaching colleague.  “In recent years, there has been an emphasis to remind us of the importance of chemistry.  Textbooks now include many special articles explaining how chemistry is used in our everyday lives from the inks, dyes, and paints we use to color our world to the detergents and softeners we use to care for our clothes to the materials inside our computers and cell phones.”

Outside the classroom, Margaret and Nathan extend their time and talents to the community to impart science concepts and applications.  They explain, “We really highlight the importance of science, specifically chemistry, in our lives through community service.  We give students an outlet that combines reading, writing, and math in a form of something hands-on…and that’s science!  Impressions can be huge for students in deciding their future.  When youngsters are introduced to science and have a tangible project to take home, they have a constant reminder of how fun and rewarding science is.  Of course, we make certain they are aware these exciting subjects are taught just down the road at MAC.”  

The Science Department regularly participates in several community science events.  For the past two years, Margaret and Nathan have taken leadership roles in various events.  Space Day at the Space Museum in Bonne Terre encouraged family members to engage in science experiments.  To their astonishment, participants seemingly defied gravity by not losing any water when holding a cup filled with water and topped off with a piece of foam board upside-down.  Last fall, eighth graders at North County Middle School, with the assistance of MAC’s Organic Chemistry class, learned how dyes attach themselves to fabric by tie-dying tee shirts.  Nathan did a return visit so students could learn about the shapes of molecules.
At First Grade Science Night at North County Primary School, first graders made glue which is similar to the silly putty that was taken into space.  Later, at the First Grade Science Day, about 250 first graders visited five different chemistry stations where they learned about the separation of a mixture of colors by chromatography, natural selection by feeding birds different seeds based on the shape of the bird’s beak, how atoms combine to form molecules by building water, methane, and sugar molecules out of gummy bears, how an animal’s habitat can help it survive predators by making their own habitat and animals, and also how dyes attach to fabric by tie-dying shirts.
“Making glue and tie-dying tee shirts seem to be the favorite among the students.  Responses are very positive and we are asked when we are coming back with more MAC chemistry,” says this chemistry duo.  “The key to these successful community events is the helping hands of many parents, teachers, Science Club members, students and Department of Natural Resources employees.”
Fredericktown’s Outreach Center’s new science lab provides another means to bring chemistry to the people.  For the first time, chemistry will be taught at the Fredericktown campus.  “The new science lab gives us the opportunity to offer an Introductory Chemistry class with all the experiences and advantages of the main-campus class,” states Margaret.  “It’s a huge plus for Fredericktown and surrounding communities.  With students’ work and family schedules, as well as the price of gas, students are now able to take a much needed class close to home.  It is a win–win for everyone.”  
To update alumni about MAC’s chemistry program, here’s an overview.  Courses are currently taught by three instructors.  Alumni may remember the department’s senior member Charles Limbaugh who, although retiring from full-time teaching in 1998, continues to teach Introductory Chemistry.  Charles earned his Masters of Science in Chemistry from the University of Tennessee in 1970.   In 1995, Margaret joined the faculty.  She earned her PhD in Inorganic Chemistry from the University of Missouri–Rolla in 1993.  Her teaching responsibilities include Introductory Chemistry, General Chemistry and Qualitative Analysis classes.  The newest and youngest member of the team, Nathan Calkins, accepted his position in 2009.  Nathan, who earned his PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Missouri–Columbia in 2010, teaches Introductory Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and Chemistry of Alternative Energy.
“Teaching chemistry at MAC is a rewarding experience,” agree Margaret, Charles and Nathan.  “We enjoy the challenge of making the courses interesting and relevant to our students.  Seeing those light bulbs go off when struggling students suddenly ‘get it’ is special.  We realize our work is all worthwhile when students say they enjoyed the class, especially the lab…even though it was tough and a lot of work.”

What is the future for Chemistry at MAC?  The instructors look forward to the new stockroom and refurbished labs on the main campus.  They are thankful to the voters who made these improvements possible by the passing of the bond issue last year.  

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