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A Chemist, an Inventor, and an Ice Cream Maker

By Sarah Wright, National Institute of Justice Fellow, Chemistry Ph.D. Candidate, University of Notre Dame

What do I do for a living? I’m a chemist. I play with lasers, and I blow things up!

As a scientist, I invented a technology that uses a finely tuned laser system to separate biological evidence and identify criminals through DNA analysis. I spend my time either in my lab aligning lasers and developing sample processing protocols, or traveling to crime labs across the world presenting my work to scientists and Crime Scene Investigators (CSI). It takes teamwork and collaboration from people in every discipline and background to make progress toward justice and reconciliation.

Outside my laser lab, I love bringing the allure of science to the community through live chemistry demonstrations at schools, libraries, and churches. Have you ever watched bursting red, flashing white, and brilliant blue fireworks light up the night sky on the 4th of July? Ever wondered how these astounding displays of color, light, and sound are created? It’s chemistry! Strontium, aluminum, and copper metals burn red, white, and blue. Click here to learn more!

Similar to how Ocean Connectors engages students in conservation science, relating STEM education to the community through interactive demonstrations is an important part of my role as a scientist and mentor. As the leader of the Notre Dame Chemistry Demonstration Team, I teach hands-on educational activities to encourage and develop an interest in science among youth from all backgrounds. One of my personal favorites is liquid nitrogen ice cream. Simply mix together cream, sugar, and a splash of vanilla, pour in -320℉ liquid nitrogen, and you’ll have a bowl of deliciously smooth, creamy ice cream within minutes! Add crushed Oreos and you’ve got cookies’n’cream! This tasty treat is safe to consume once the liquid nitrogen has returned to its gaseous state, since nearly 80% of the air you breathe is made of nitrogen. Pretty cool, huh? Want to make ice cream with science at home? Ask an adult to join you in a Rock Salt Ice Cream experiment.

Seeing the gleeful awe in the eyes of a child is what drives me to continue this type of outreach in inspiring youth to discover the secrets of creation, just as Ocean Connectors strives to inspire the next generation in learning and appreciating our world! Our future needs the curious, the creative, and the caring to build bridges, address challenges, and discover solutions. Are you interested in becoming an inventor? Discovering a cure? Or finding solutions to hunger, transportation, or environmental issues? Then continue to study hard, ask questions, and persistently pursue your passions!

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