Have you ever wondered where the bubbles in your pancakes come from? Or what makes apple cider go “bad”? Answers to these and other fun science questions can be found on Ashley Baker’s blog “Chemistry for Everyone.”
Baker, a chemistry major, created the blog as an Anne Gary Pannell Merit Scholar, through which she receives funding to support the project. She is one of nine Sweet Briar students to earn the scholarship this year. Initiated in 2010-2011, the program rewards exceptional first-year students with the opportunity to explore an area of interest during their sophomore year. The Class of 2014 was the first to complete projects under the program.
Pannell Scholars receive a merit award applied to their tuition and funds to support any research or travel associated with their project. This year’s themes reflect a diverse group of scholars — topics range from researching the castle of Versailles, bilingualism in education or the history of Western European swordsmanship to conducting workshops in engineering and exploring a medical career in Guatemala.
What unites many of these projects is that Pannell Scholars are motivated by something beyond their own curiosity. Baker is no exception.
“I was inspired to pursue this project because so many of my non-sciencey friends say they’re ‘bad’ at math or science, and therefore, haven’t studied those subjects,” she said. “There are so many cool things I’ve learned as a hard science major that I wouldn’t know if I hadn’t taken advanced science classes, and I want to share those interesting tidbits with people who won’t have the opportunity or time to take those courses.”
Baker’s interest in creative writing helps her to turn complicated reactions into easy-to-grasp, entertaining lessons, as do the many images and videos she uses to illustrate her blog. There are clips of Bill Nye the Science Guy on static electricity and magnetism, there’s a rap video on how to make pancakes, and then there are photos of Baker at an apple orchard and in Philadelphia during Thanksgiving break. In order to “learn how to better present technical information to the public in an interesting and effective manner,” Baker visited several of the city’s science museums, including the Chemical Heritage Museum, the Franklin Institute, the Academy of Natural Sciences and the Mütter Museum.
So far, Baker has enjoyed the experience, and she says she might continue her blog next year to “inform those around me about the neat things I learn.”
“I learn a lot while writing, so it’s beneficial for me as well as those who read it,” she added.
Blogging about science has also brought her one step closer to figuring out what she wants to do after college.
“Chemical education is a field that interests me, and I may eventually pursue a career that deals with informing the public about scientific research.”
In the meantime, Baker is working on finishing her own education — one chemistry class at a time.
“The courses have been really challenging, but Sweet Briar is a friendly environment that has allowed me to grow throughout these challenges, rather than be encumbered by them,” she said.
“It’s a great place.”