The Akron Society of Plastics April meeting was not your normal monthly local techie-fest. No PowerPoint. No presentation about mold release agents or other technical subjects, commercial even though it's non-commercial.
Akron SPE members instead heard from two high school students — and it was the best meeting ever.
Emma Harmon, a junior, and sophomore Ean Hudspeth, cooked up some bio-plastics on a hot plate right in front of the meeting. And they presented the findings from a lesson at the honors biology class taught by Dori Hess at GlenOak High School near Canton, Ohio.
Hess did some talking, saying she got the idea at an American Chemical Society conference.
Then Emma and Ean — who were already cooking up a batch of plastic as Hess spoke — took over. And it was a delight. Very professionally, they explained their research. Most of samples looked like anonymous hunks of plastic in different colors.
But these high schoolers wowed the SPE crowd. They were impressively mature. They exhibited none of the attitudes from my high school class of 1979. (Did you see the movie “Dazed and Confused”? No, I was not Matthew McConaughey back in high school, but I wanted to be more like him; still want to be him, but I'm cool with myself).
Ean explained the basic ingredients: corn starch, vegetable oil, water and food coloring. Students poured the material into a mold made out of a plastic bottle, then let it air dry for several days — even over spring Bbreak.
They described making changes and testing and results.
Their enthusiasm was fun and refreshing. Emma described the cooked mixture as being “like sludge.” She wants to study bioengineering or chemical engineering.
“I was all excited to come back to class the next day, and see if I could get it off [the form] and put it together,” Emma said. “And there was nothing on the water bottle. There was nothing but crumbs surrounding it. And apparently it's a very brittle form of the plastic, so it didn't work.”
The two students passed around samples. Ean, in his part of the presentation, talked about how many water bottles there are in the world, and how the students want to help create a better way forward.
They explained how the class got a bunch of different recipes to try and improve the results. Another test resulted in a bioplastic that was rubbery, but very brittle, Emma said.
Emma, part scientist and all high schooler, said this about her coming in to check the bioplastic: “I personally came in and I was so excited. I was ‘Yeah, let's LOOK at this.' And then immediately I was livid. I was like, all right, who touched it? Who ruined it?”
It was funny. The Akron SPE had never done that before, having students run the show, section leaders said.
Well do it again, at least a few times a year. In fact, every single SPE section should do this, if they have interested local teachers and great students like Emma Harmon and Ean Hudspeth.
The key takeaway from the April 11 meeting at the Hilton Inn in Akron was this: A high school junior saying she could not wait to get to school!
Everyone at the meeting left with a smile, feeling good about the future, after hearing from these budding scientists.