Looking back at a successful virtual event

If you visit the Chemistry and Chemical Department at the Royal Military College (RMC) of Canada at the beginning of December, you might see crowds of first-year Cadets roaming the fifth floor, hear some loud bangs, and smell some amazing treats. You would have found yourself immersed in our annual Holiday Chemistry Extravaganza, which is an event that was started three years ago to promote chemistry and science among the first-year Cadets at the RMC. During this annual event, the first-year labs are filled with professors, graduate students, and upper-years running all kinds of chemistry demonstrations: oxidating a gummy bear, demonstrating how luminol works, burning gun cotton, and creating silver holiday ornaments using Tollen’s test. However, as with everything in 2020, large gatherings of excited students were not permitted. The Department of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, like all other post-secondary institutions, adapted in order to keep the tradition alive, leading to the Chemistry Extravaganza 2020: Online Edition.

In lieu of in-person demonstrations, pre-recorded experiments were made over several weeks by a group of dedicated teaching assistants led by Anbareen Farooq, a graduate student at RMC. As a treat for the students, the event also had the principal and Commandant of the College make special guest appearances.

“We wanted to make sure that even during the pandemic the students still felt connected to the College and that they didn’t miss the opportunity to see the fun side of chemistry,” said Farooq.

In these uncertain times, maintaining a sense of community was paramount to engaging students in our remote learning environment. In tandem with the event itself, challenges and draws were created with the support of the RMC Foundation to enhance the online experience. One such activity was the “Chemistreats” Contest, where the students were tasked with creating a chemistry concept using food products. The winner was selected based on popular vote. This year, the winner created a caffeine molecule with colourful cake pops joined by toothpicks.

Social media was also critical to the event’s success for promotions, as well as for the engagement with the viewers. Despite the remoteness, the attendance was on par with previous years, and the feedback was just as positive. Below is some feedback from participants.

“The Chemistry Extravaganza showed me that the department is very involved in our education and that they’re trying to make the most of our time here. Overall, I really enjoyed the experience, and I can’t wait to start going down the chemistry pathway.” – Officer Cadet Hannah Asner.

“The RMC Chemistry and Chemical Engineering department did an amazing job at hosting the Chemistry Extravaganza! I was able to participate in some of the experiments like blowing up gummy bears and making (and tasting) liquid nitrogen ice cream which was really fun! It was a great way to end the fall semester and get into the holiday spirit!”—Officer Cadet Mea Paoletti