Chemistry teacher Jessie Martin is using an unusual method to illuminate ideas about atomic structure as her class explores the elements of the periodic table. Gummi worms, a campus favorite, are a great teaching tool for demonstrating the behavior of light.
Shining a red laser on a multicolored gummi worm, Ms. Martin revealed a characteristic of light waves and how the human eye perceives various wavelengths as particular colors.
Specifically, the demonstration showed that green objects absorb red light and red objects transmit or reflect red light, which is why an object like a gummi worm appears in different colors. Chemical elements can be identified by a unique series of wavelengths emitted when electrons change energy levels.
In a second demonstration, students wore glasses with a diffraction grating to make it possible to discern the different wavelengths of light through a spectrum tube. Like a prism, the glasses revealed colors when light was passed through a spectrum tube. A spectrum tube contains a pure element and light shined through shows a color unique to its atomic makeup of the element. The purpose of the spectrum tubes and glasses was to see that each element has a unique atomic spectrum, which is composed of all the different wavelengths of light that are being emitted as electrons change energy levels.
Millbrook’s science department strives for student scientists to make discoveries and to seek scientific evidence for themselves. Ms. Martin’s use of candy and a laser pointer to illustrate a foundational scientific principle exemplifies this departmental goal. A fundamental understanding of how light behaves illuminates the way for further inquiries in subatomic science.