OPRF chemistry 'moled' over by project

What's furry and brown and numbered 6.02 godzillian? A mole, of course.

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Famed Italian scientist Amedeo Avogadro may never have envisioned that his theories of molarity and molecular weight would have inspired a little known phenomenon called "Mole Day."

Oak Park and River Forest High School's chemistry students last Thursday honored Avogadro and Mole Day‚Ä"officially recognized this past Sunday. The unofficial holiday is celebrated on Oct. 23 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. to commemorate Avogadro's number: (6.02 x 10^23), the basic unit in chemistry that he developed.

A mole is 6.02 x 10^23 (that is, move the decimal point 23 times to the right) of anything.

For the last four years, OPRF Chemistry teacher Cheryl Rulis has used "Mole Day" to get her students excited about learning chemistry.

"Kids who don't know anything about chemistry get excited about Mole Day," said Rulis.

High schools across the country have used Mole Day to peek students' interest since the late 1980s when a high school teacher decided to use the mole‚Ä"that is, the furry underground animal‚Ä"as a theme for chemistry-related activities. Since then, chemistry teachers nationwide have come up with ideas and activities for Mole Day.

Rulis asked her students to come up with three-dimensional artwork and to incorporate Avogadro's number and his furry little counterpart in their project. But many of the students did more than just paste a picture of a mole on a popsicle stick and call it a day. The chemistry class, in fact, looked more like Art 101. Some created poster boards. Others made moles out cloth, yarn and old garments. Some went so far as to make little caricatures inspired by some of their favorite pop culture icons. "The Mole-son Twins" and "The Mole-C" were obvious homages to Mary Kate and Ashley Olson and the Popular Fox series "The O.C."

Not every idea came from the current pop landscape. One student used the Beatles to come up with "Sgt. Mole's Lonely Hearts Club Band." Four small stuffed moles dressed as John, Paul, George and Ringo, and with tiny instruments rubber-banded to their bodies were encased in a large cardboard box fit to look like a band shell stage.

Rulis was astounded by what the students come up with.

"They just surprise me every time," she said. "The things that they come up with and the hours the put into it is really something."

The Chicago White Sox's World Series didn't go unnoticed by sophomores Eddie Harrison, 16, Colin McCarey, 15, and Matthew Harris, 15, who were inspired to create "U.S. Mole-ular Field" out of a poster board spray-painted green. The guys spent hours putting their project together. The White-moles were heavily favored against the Houston Avogadro's, the guys said.

"We spent 10 hours making moles," McCarey said. "It took us about two days. It got shorter after awhile. The first mole took three hours, though."

"It's better than making a paper or just the normal poster," added Harrison.

Abby Raskin, 16, a junior, went through several ideas including "Mole-dy Locks" before settling on the "Super Her-moles" featuring Bat-mole and Wonderwom-mole.

"I started thinking about things that sound like mole and went through all different possibilities. I thought this was a good one because I could incorporate more than just Super-mole," Raskin said, admitting that she really got into the project thanks to Ms. Rulis.

"I knew that our teacher was real enthusiastic so it makes you want to do it," she said. "And it's kind of like the one day in the year where we can have fun. And it's the beginning of the lesson when we're just learning about it."

The students will learn about traditional chemistry and all its formulas, theories and experiments. And the students did receive a credit for their projects. But "Mole Day" is just a fun way of tying everything together in a fun way, said Rulis.

"They don't often think that chemistry can be fun," she said. "They're like 'how can chemistry be fun?' This gets them going because they're thinking outside of the box and that's what we want them to do."

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

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