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One step away
June 8, 2024

A&M prof takes colorful approach to STEM

Chemistry+road+show
Photo by Photo by Valerie Gunchick
Chemistry road show

Jim Pennington may be known as a professor on campus, but in many parts of Texas he is known as the “Chemistry Magician.” 
Pennington brings engaging experiments to schools across the state with the “Chemistry Road Show.” The show features explosions and colors rather than the typical lectures that accompany chemistry lessons.
“Two-thirds of my job is teaching organic chemistry, the rest is dedicated to the Chemistry Road Show,” Pennington said.
While Pennington runs the road show today, it was started 30 years ago by A&M chemist John Hogg. Pennington said Hogg and his wife would go to local schools in a van to do science experiments with students. When Hogg died in 2008, Pennington stepped in to continue the teacher’s work.
“When he passed away around eight years ago, I took over for him and my main contribution is adding more shows,” Pennington said. “Last year, we did about 83 shows with about 22,000 people all over the state of Texas.”
One of the “science tricks” that Pennington does is combine Hydrogen Peroxide, dish soap, potassium iodide and food coloring to make a huge formation of foam he dubs “Elephant Toothpaste.” Pennington also burns gummy bears, makes mirrors and freezes ice cream.
The Chemistry Road Show is also a free program, Pennington said.
“We have a joint project with the George Bush Presidential Library Educational Outreach where we perform for them and they do distance education,” Pennington said. “We go to a lot of libraries and schools where the shows are provided for with no cost towards the hosting.”
Pennington’s road show hopes to not only show how fun science can be, but also push them towards education and careers in STEM fields.
“In Texas, there is a strong push that we focus on STEM,” said Shirley Hammond, the director of education at the George Bush Presidential Library. “So we try to encourage students to learn more science than they are used to. And the Chemistry Road Show does this.”
Kathleen Hammond, a regular volunteer at the George Bush Presidential Library, was present at one of the shows and she said that the students were very interested towards science after the presentation.
“Before the show they were glum and not smiling, but when they came out of the presentation, they were talking and having a wonderful time,” Hammond said. “I actually saw the kids discussing what they had seen and it looked like they were planning to go home and try some of the experiments.”
Karen Richards, mother of two children who attended the Chemistry Road Show, said Pennington has a large impact on the communities he visits. 
“My kids wouldn’t stop talking about it for days,” Richards said. “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for kids to experience what chemicals do first-hand. [Pennington] did as many experiments as they would do in a year of school. They would not have seen many of the experiments if he had not been there.”
John Hogg. Pennington said Hogg and his wife would go to local schools in a van to do science experiments with students. When Hogg died in 2008, Pennington stepped in to continue the teacher’s work.
“When he passed away around eight years ago, I took over for him and my main contribution is adding more shows,” Pennington said. “Last year, we did about 83 shows with about 22,000 people all over the state of Texas.”
One of the “science tricks” that Pennington does is combine hydrogen peroxide, dish soap, potassium iodide and food coloring to make a huge formation of foam he dubs “Elephant Toothpaste.” Pennington also burns gummy bears, makes mirrors and freezes ice cream.
The Chemistry Road Show is a joint educational outreach project with the George Bush Presidential Library and is free to viewers, Pennington said.
“We go to a lot of libraries and schools where the shows are provided for with no cost towards the hosting,” Pennington said. 
Pennington hopes to not only show how fun science can be, but also push children towards education and careers in STEM fields.
“In Texas, there is a strong push that we focus on STEM,” said Shirley Hammond, the director of education at the George Bush Presidential Library. “So we try to encourage students to learn more science than they are used to, and the Chemistry Road Show does this.”
Kathleen Hammond, a regular volunteer at the George Bush Presidential Library, was present at one of the shows and said the students were very interested in science after the presentation.
“Before the show they were glum and not smiling, but when they came out of the presentation, they were talking and having a wonderful time,” Kathleen said. “I actually saw the kids discussing what they had seen and it looked like they were planning to go home and try some of the experiments.”
Karen Richards, mother of two children who attended the Chemistry Road Show, said Pennington has a large impact on the communities he visits. 
“My kids wouldn’t stop talking about it for days,” Richards said. “I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for kids to experience what chemicals do first-hand. [Pennington] did as many experiments as they would do in a year of school. They would not have seen many of the experiments if he had not been there.”

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    Photo by Photo by Valerie Gunchick
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    Photo by Photo by Valerie Gunchick
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    Photo by Photo by Valerie Gunchick
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