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Kitchen Chemistry

Chemistry has a massive role to play in our day-to-day lives, but we seldom realize it. The chemistry of food and the cooking process is a remarkable example. Scientific understanding of food preparation and processing is essential to ensure the safety and quality of food. The Kitchen Chemistry project was designed for students to acquire basic knowledge about the properties of acids, bases, enzymes and molecules. It also provides an abundant scope to students, to personally conceive a hypothesis, design and implement experiments.

An important intended outcome of this project was to create a science-friendly environment where the students could ask questions, perform experiments and explain their own reasoning. Kitchen Chemistry was a project that checked all boxes, consisting of seven interesting experiments with assignment questions and a few reading exercises. These experiments were primarily designed to explore chemistry using non-toxic kitchen material which is readily available at home. Students were able to carry out all the project work by themselves under the supervision of their parents. Topics such as States of Matter, Elements, Compounds, Mixtures, Physical & Chemical Changes, Surface Tension, Surfactants, Crystallization Techniques and Inter-molecular Interactions were covered in this project.

Students were motivated to behave like scientists and allowed to use their kitchen as real-world laboratories. At the very first stage of this project, students were asked to identify molecules, compounds and mixtures in their kitchen. This activity helped them to rectify some common misconceptions in basic chemistry. In the ‘Creating Edible Crystals’ activity (see image above), students devised techniques to learn slow evaporation crystallization method using saturated sugar solutions as well as the applications of crystallization. They also learned about carbon and its compounds, and the different chemical changes that occur by understanding the reaction mechanism in the Black snakes - Preparation of Carbon experiment (see image below).

In the ‘Milk and Soap’ activity, students were given an insight into surface tension, surfactants, applications of surfactants and the molecular interactions between milk and soap. Another interesting experiment, Micro Camphor Boat’ enabled them to understand hydrophobic interactions between Camphor and water molecules. In addition, students investigated the physical and chemical changes during the cooking process, through the ‘Making Paneer at home’ and ‘Your Favourite dish’ activities (see image below). Students were also directed to read some scientific articles related to food science.

Atrija, a student who participated in the project, says “We actually made Paneer at home from scratch and it was very exciting!”. Another student, Sharvari, says “Looking back on the project, I never realized there were so many reactions involved in the cooking process. Learning about it was a lot of fun.

Dr S. Athavan was the mentor and oversaw the project. Talking about e-learning, he says “The implementation of this project encourages the self-paced E-learning among students. During interaction sessions, students are allowed to critically argue based on their experimental results and this will help them learn and understand the reactions/experiments at both the macroscopic and the microscopic (atomic) level. As a chemistry teacher, I would say, the virtual labs and simulations are very useful to demonstrate hazardous reactions and to explain chemistry at the microscopic level. However, the experience from hands-on learning is also important in order to gain practical skills like equipment handling, chemical safety measures etc. It is also true that virtual laboratories do tend to get monotonous and do not generate the same level of enthusiasm in children after some time. In my opinion, the learning experience from hands-on activities is more effective than software simulations.

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