John Pederson explaining chemistry to middle school students

How do you demonstrate chemistry without chemicals? This was the question asked by members of the McDaniel lab, a theoretical and computational chemistry lab in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, as they prepared for the Middle Grades Discover Georgia Tech outreach event hosted by the Office of Institute Relations.


The annual Middle Grades Discover GT event sees more than 250 students from surrounding elementary and middle schools come to campus to participate in demos and activities facilitated by Georgia Tech and GTRI researchers. Disciplines ranging from microbiology to robotics are represented at the event, and this year saw theoretical chemistry added to the list!


While experiments are the first thing to come to mind for outreach in chemistry, McDaniel lab members John Hymel, Shahriar Khan, John Pederson, and Chloe Renfroe devised four stations to demonstrate foundational chemistry concepts in a fun way. One of their stations demonstrated the relationship between chemical structure and energy using 3D-printed potential energy surfaces and an animated cyclization reaction. Another station allowed students to explore a simulated box of water and its network of hydrogen bonds using controllers. The third station demonstrated covalent bonds and normal modes using modeling kits, and the last station showed the effects of polymer branching on plastics with pipe-cleaners and sample materials.


This year’s event took place on Wednesday, November 15th. In total, they were able show their demos to nearly 80 7th and 8th grade students.


John Hymel working with students on a computational chemistry project.   McDaniel group members participating in the Middle Grades Discover GT event.