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Nespelem Elementary students don their lab coats


Students observe science experiments, complete with beakers, test tubes, and lab coats. Clockwise from bottom left are Aiden Decker, chemical engineer Jake Gray, Francis Louie, Virgil Bearcub, Professor Seu Ha, Rosco Owhi-Leach, and Cylia St. Pierre. - Jacob Wagner photos

Students at Nespelem Elementary received a hands-on science experience from chemical engineers from Washington State University last week.

Doctor Seu Ha, an immigrant from Korea, received his Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from North Carolina University and his doctorate from the University of Illinois before finding himself as a professor at WSU.

Ha was joined by his student, Jake Gray, a Mead High School graduate, who has a bachelor's degree in chemistry and one in chemical engineering from WSU and is getting his doctorate in chemical engineering from WSU.

The two left Pullman at 5 a.m. Nov. 22, out of Professor Ha's own pocket, to go to Nespelem to perform science experiments with fifth- through eighth-grade students.

"They're going to come up about once a semester," said Ralph Rise, who teaches science at Nespelem and arranged for the scientists to meet with his students.

"We're doing some demonstrations of different chemical effects," Jake Gray said. "It's basically a magic show type of thing to have fun and inspire the kids."

The students wore lab coats just like their scientist guests, and eagerly observed and participated in the performance of three experiments.

The first was called "golden rain," in which transparent solutions were blended, then heated to create a golden liquid.

The second was a hands-on, sodium alternated cross-polymerization, "which just means they're making plastic," Gray said. The students received two small plastic cups of different solutions, one being colored, then used droppers to mix one in the other. The reaction made colorful, gooey worms and spheres with which the students could play.

The third experiment was one of "chemiluminescence," which means it glows. After turning out the lights, Gray blended two chemicals, shook them, and it glowed a bright blue color, like that of a flame.

"We like to come out to this place and be good role models so (the students) can see there are good opportunities out there," said Dr. Ha. "We just like to show them the world is bigger than this area. ... There are so many opportunities just waiting for them; they just need to grab them. Work hard, study hard, go to college, and get their educations, and they can be great scientists and engineers; and with their degrees they can really change the world."

From left, fifth graders Aiden Decker, Virgil Bearcub, and Cylia St. Pierre marvel at the plastic goo they made in science class.

The students were engrossed and full of questions about the experiments. The top question being, "Can we eat it?" The students played with the goo they had made, and laughed that it resembled slime, boogers, and worms.

"It was really nice because they bring in some expertise and they spend a lot of time researching what they brought," said Ralph Rise. "We were able to show the connection between school, college, and the job force."

"We are in a very special area," Dr. Ha continued. "We have many people who I feel need good mentors and examples and just good messages that they can do it... that if they work hard they can do anything they want. I was nothing, but now I'm chasing my dream. These students can also have these dreams. I want them to think they can be more. They can be engineers, they can be artists, they can be anything they want. So I just hope that they will find their dream. The dream is bigger than what they see."

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