The Chemistry Club: Science Sluths

I. Course description

In this course, students will help the bungling detective, Herlock Sholmes, and his brilliant assistant, Tess Toobe, solve mysteries using chemistry principles and the scientific method.  The Case of the Bargain BBs, The Great Milk “Moo”stery, The Matter of the Missing Money, and Who Poisoned Mrs. Brown? are just a few of the mysteries that students will solve.  Scholars enrolled in this program need not have an extensive background in chemistry; they will learn the needed chemistry concepts as the mysteries unfold.  It is important, however, that students have a willingness to experience chemistry as the challenging, intriguing, and fun science that it is!

II. Instructor

Nancy A. Fischer

  • Bachelor of Science in Education  – Southeast Missouri State University
  • Certification in Chemistry, Biology, and Mathematics
  • Valle Catholic High School – Ste. Genevieve, MO
  • Email:
  • Missouri Scholars Academy Faculty – 1999-2000
III. Rationale for inclusion in a program for gifted students

Everyone loves a good mystery and most students would argue that chemistry is a mystery to them, so the activities in this course combine these two realities in a manner designed to persuade even the most science-wary students that chemistry can be fun.  Allowing scholars to approach the chemistry topics from the point of view of detectives reinforces the use of the scientific method in solving problems.  In addition to engaging in challenging but unconventional activities, the scholars will gain insights into matter and energy, chemical reactions, and acids and bases that will enhance their present knowledge or lay the foundation for future chemistry courses.

IV. Major topics covered
  1. Matter and Energy
    • scientific method
    • density
    • specific heat
    • polarity
  2. Chemical Reactions
    • balancing equations
    • chemical reaction indicators
    • stoichiometry
    • percentage purity
    • electrochemistry
  3. Acids and Bases
    • pH scale
    • indicators
    • titrations
    • consumer applications
    • industrial applications
V. Pre-requisite knowledge

Scholars enrolling in this course should have a solid math background; a firm grasp of algebra is necessary to perform the mathematical analysis of lab results in this course.

VI. Learning objectives

Students will be able to . . .

  • use the scientific method when investigating natural phenomenon.
  • determine the densities of various liquids and calculate the relative amounts of two of the liquids that must be combined to produces a solution having the same density as the third liquid.
  • determine the density and specific heats of unknown metal samples and use this information to identify these metal amples.
  • relate polarity to the behavior of substances being separated by chromatography.
  • use hydrochloric acid to remove the zinc from post-1983 pennies and calculate the percentage of copper by mass in those pennies.
  • identify an unknown powder by comparing its chemical behavior to observations of the chemical behavior of known powders.
  • using the mass of silver produced, determine the mass of copper that must have reacted with a silver nitrate solution.
  • determine the chemical make-up of different brands of chalk based on density and reaction with dilute hydrochloric acid.
  • serially dilute HCl and NaOH and develop a pH colorimeter.
  • use a pH colorimeter to determine the pH of common household substances.
  • determine the effectiveness of antacids for neutralizing stomach acid.
  • determine the percentage of acetic acid in vinegar samples and the mass of vitamin C in fruit juice samples and compare these values to those listed on the labels.
VII. Primary source materials
  • Chang, R.  Chemistry. McGraw-Hill, 1998
  • Fischer, Nancy.  VHS Laboratory Manual.  Valle High School, 1996
VIII. Supplementary source materials
  • LeMay, Beall, Robblee, Brower.  Chemistry.  Prentice Hall, 2000.
  • Various materials obtained from workshops and from other high school and college chemistry texts and laboratory manuals.
IX. Computing and the Internet

Students will have access to the Internet to find supplemental information for the course.

X. Typical classroom strategies

A typical day in this academic minor would be as follows:

  • 10 – 15 minutes An introduction to the mystery of the day and a discussion of how students can help Herlock Sholmes and his assistant, Tess Toobe, solve the mystery.  Time would also be spent linking the chemical concepts used to solve this mystery with those that have been implemented in solving previous mysteries.
  • 30 – 40 minutes Laboratory procedure designed to collect the necessary data to solve the mystery.
  • 5 – 10 minutes Analysis of lab results and solving of the mystery.

Most of these mysteries are designed to be solved within a one-hour period.  However, some of the mysteries involve more abstract chemical concepts; a thorough discussion of the background for these activities or a more thorough analysis of results would be recommended.  In such cases, an hour and a half time allotment would be required.