GONZALES — It wasn’t the first time Central Middle School sixth-graders Jacob Badeaux and Desmond Dunbar had eaten a graham cracker.
But it was the first time the pair had ever tasted graham crackers dipped in liquid nitrogen.
“It tastes good,” said Dunbar, a fine mist of water vapor pouring from his mouth.
Badeaux said the graham cracker tasted watery “because it’s cold and it’s melting.”
The friends tried the snack at the ChemFriends Expo, a free two-day exhibition designed to raise interest in chemistry among Ascension Parish sixth-graders.
Now in its 18th year, the expo was held Nov. 4-5 at the Gonzales Civic Center and is sponsored by local industries in cooperation with the Ascension Parish school system and government.
ChemFriends sponsor Air Products showed the visiting students an insulated storage unit called a dewar filled with liquid nitrogen cooled to -321 degrees Fahrenheit.
In addition to the graham crackers, Air Product employees submerged a banana, a balloon and a flower in the liquid nitrogen. The liquid nitrogen froze the banana and flower allowing them to be easily crushed by student volunteers.
The balloon, however, shrunk after the molecules inside constricted due to the cold temperatures, said Kyle Lawrence, an Air Products environmental manager.
“It’s fun getting a reaction out of the kids,” said Lawrence. “And it’s certainly better than sitting in an office.”
Raising students’ interest in science is the event’s main goal, said Rick Bergeron, ChemFriends Expo committee co-chairman.
“Being able to reach out and at least get that interest level sparked in some students really makes a difference,” Bergeron said.
Roughly 1,800 sixth-grade students were expected to visit the expo with up to 700 more students of all ages visiting the event’s two-hour community night Nov. 5, Bergeron said.
“It’s one of those feel-good field trips the students look forward to every year,” Bergeron said.
Sixth-graders Landon Goodman and Alex Braud made their own polymers in the form of putty at Honeywell’s demonstration booth using Elmer’s glue, water, food coloring and a borax solution.
“I liked it because of how you can just take the water and a little bit of dye and turn it into something completely different than before,” said Goodman.
“It’s a fun experiment you can do anywhere,” said Braud.
Honeywell employee Erica Pitre said it is important to show area students, especially those living so close to the chemical corridor, that “science is fun.”
At the Shell Chemical demonstration booth, students learned how laundry detergent like Tide — whose raw ingredients are manufactured at the company’s site in Geismar — clean dirt and grease from clothing.
The students made miniature washing machines by adding oil to water-filled vials. Adding detergent to the vial suspends the oil in such a way that it can be removed.
“Now the water can wash it away,” said Jason Bankston, a Shell chemical analyst.
Sponsors of the ChemFriends Expo included Air Products, BASF, C.F. Industries, Dupont, Honeywell, Methanex, Motiva, OxyChem, PCS Nitrogen, Rubicon, Shell Chemical, Westlake Chemical, Williams, Gonzales Fire Department, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, the Ascension Parish School Board and Southern University.