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Kids get a dose of science at refinery

ExxonMobil interns serve as Big Brothers Big Sisters for a day

CHANNAHON – Big Brothers Big Sisters children Emily and Joshua lit up when they started pouring honey, dish washing soap, lamp oil and other liquids into a flask in a cafeteria at the ExxonMobil refinery on Thursday.

“Awe, that’s so awesome,” 12-year-old Emily said. “I like how they separate.”

At first, 8-year-old Joshua wasn’t interested in the science experiment teaching liquid and solid density. But when he saw the layers of honey, corn syrup and soap form layers, he revealed a bright smile.

“Wow, I didn’t know about this,” he said.

Emily and Joshua are three of 25 children waiting to receive a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Will and Grundy Counties, a United Way mentorship organization.

ExxonMobil engineering interns organized an in-house science fair for the children to promote science, technology, engineering and math.

“We’re all from pretty much different parts of the world,” said intern Emily Capek, a senior from Clarkson University who started up the idea of holding the science fair. “We just want to give back to the community.”

The children first got to see, learn about and walk inside ExxonMobil’s fire safety vehicles. Then they headed to the refinery cafeteria, where interns set up several stations with quirky science experiments.

The children split up into groups and went to each station, which included the density experiment, dissolving polymers, creating “elephant toothpaste” with hydrogen peroxide, and the wonders of iron in cereal.

With magnets and crushed-up Total, 10-year-olds Jorge and Hailey were surprised they could dig out the iron from the cereal.

“I didn’t know there was metal in our cereal,” Jorge said. “It’s very neat that you are eating iron when you eat cereal.”

Intern and University of Pennsylvania senior James Sui told Jorge and Hailey that there were two small nails worth of iron in each of their bodies.

“If you asked me if there was science in my cereal, I wouldn’t believe it,” Hailey said. “I never thought science would be in my food.”

Lisa Las, the chief executive officer for Big Brothers Big Sisters, said it’s been hard on some of the kids who have been waiting over a year for a mentor. But events like this provide for a way to connect with the kids during that process.

“It’s important to hold something like this for them because they get to see science up close and personal,” Las said. “It’s a great opportunity to see science in action.”

ExxonMobil Midwest Public Affairs Manager Tricia Simpson suggested Big Brothers Big Sisters as an organization the interns could help.

“They’ll probably learn as much from organizing this as on their internships,” she said.

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