I enjoyed teaching basic chemistry. Once we got over the fear factor that came from what other people had told them, young people became as enthralled as I am with the way chemistry works. Just the basic concept of acids, bases and salts was a revelation to most kids. They had visions of acids being stuff that could eat your arm off and had a hard time understanding that the salad dressing they put on their lunch was primarily an acid. When they saw that their soda pop would turn litmus red indicating it had acid in it, they were incredulous. Understanding that ascorbic acid was vitamin C and that there was acid in their stomach made kids realize that acids serve us in many benign ways.
The next revelation was that bases also have many important uses. Household ammonia, ammonium hydroxide, is a base. Sodium hydroxide is a strong base able to do amazing things to grease, making it a classic soap. Calcium hydroxide is lime, and some kids knew it was used on their lawns and gardens. The real surprise for kids was what a salt is. When I pulled out the salt shaker, I would ask them what kind of salt was in it? Most of them knew it was sodium chloride, but I had twenty salt shakers all of which were labeled “salt, ” and none of them contained sodium chloride. Some were potassium chloride, and some were calcium chloride. Some were different colors such as copper chloride, iron chloride, and cobalt chloride. It was interesting to watch them test the salts with litmus paper as they discovered that salts could be acidic or basic.
The next step was to make salts. We would take hydrochloric acid (a strong acid) and mix it with sodium hydroxide (a strong base) and get sodium chloride and water–two things you take into your body. If you mixed the hydrochloric acid with a weak base like aluminum hydroxide you would get aluminum chloride which would turn litmus paper red indicating an acidic nature. What do you put on your plants to make them grow? Some plants like an acidic soil. If you pour hydrochloric acid on the soil, you will kill the plants, but acid salt will make such plants flourish.
One day after doing all of these tests and writing all of this down, one of my students looked at the board and all the equations we had written and said, “Who thought all of this stuff up in the first place?” That question is always out there, in every science class, every experiment, and every view we make through a microscope or a telescope. Romans 1: 20 tells us that “we can know there is a God through the things He has made.” Science is knowledge, and the more we know of the creation, the closer we can get to the Creator.
–John N. Clayton © 2017