BPS Students and UMass Boston PhD Student Equate to Winning Formula

Colleen Locke | April 11, 2018
Camila Muneton tests a mystery substance while Raúl Orduña Picón and Shandira Soto look on

Camila Muneton tests a mystery substance while Raúl Orduña Picón and Shandira Soto look on
Image by: Colleen Locke

We have an expert – someone who does this for a living. It’s amazing.

Students Do Additional Tests Before State and International Science Fair Competitions in UMass Boston Lab

Boston Latin Academy juniors Shandira Soto and Camila Muneton had the day off of school for Good Friday, but instead of sleeping in, they came to a different school, UMass Boston, to get their science fair project ready for state and international competition. For the past month, Soto and Muneton have been working with Raúl Orduña Picón, a third year Chemistry PhD student, who, after working as a high school teacher in Mexico City, is studying chemistry education in Professor of Chemistry Hannah Sevian’s lab.

During this, their third visit, the teen scientists were doing a test to determine the heat capacity of a mystery substance they found in their chemistry classroom at BLA.

“They will boil the water, and once the water is boiling they will put the metal inside, and they will wait until this metal is of the same temperature as the water, in this case 100 degrees Celsius,” Orduña Picón explained before the test. “Once they move the metal that is inside the boiling water to a thermic cup of water at room temperature, they will notice a difference between the room temperature and the temperature of the water once it’s in contact with the hot metal. They will know the mass, they will know the temperature, and there will be a known variable, in this case, the heat capacity.”

When Soto and Muneton first found the thin, silver foil-like substance in a drawer in their classroom, they thought it was aluminum, but it had a different thickness. Their quest for answers turned into a science fair project at their school. After coming in second place, they won one of the first prizes at the Massachusetts Region VI science fair. It was there that they met Sevian, one of the judges, who offered the use of her lab if they ended up winning. The two teens won one of the first prizes and May trips to the Massachusetts Science Fair at MIT and the International Science Fair in Pittsburgh. They contacted Sevian the next day.

“She mentioned electrochemical cells, which we had never heard of, and it was a really good test that could help find out what this metal was, and she said we could use her lab because we didn’t have the materials in our school,” Muneton said. “She introduced us to Raúl, and it was awesome. We have an expert – someone who does this for a living. It’s amazing.”

Soto says they’re anxious to compete at the state and international level, now that they’ve had time to work with Orduña Picón and plan, research, and prepare additional tests.

“We presented saying it was tin, or an alloy with tin and aluminum, but we weren’t that sure. So that’s why we came in here, and we started planning what more tests we could do to be sure what it is,” Soto said.

“We started with talking about their master plan – what they want to do, what kind of experiments they are planning to carry out, as well as what kind of resources they expect,” Orduña Picón said.

The relationship the scientists have built with one another is beneficial to all parties on multiple levels.

“Here in the Science Department, we have enjoyed the pleasure of partnering with UMass Boston for many years and in many ways,” said Pam Pelletier, the director of K-12 science and technology/engineering for Boston Public Schools. “Collaborating with graduate students in the lab offers our BPS students a relevant experience that promotes college, career, and life readiness. The relationships they build with UMass Boston staff may also have transformative and lasting impact on these young women as they build their own science identity.”

Soto and Muneton aren’t sure if they’ll go on to study science in college, but they know one thing for sure – this is a partnership they aren’t soon to forget.

About UMass Boston
The University of Massachusetts Boston is deeply rooted in the city's history, yet poised to address the challenges of the future. Recognized for innovative research, metropolitan Boston’s public university offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 11 colleges and graduate schools serve more than 16,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit www.umb.edu.

Tags: chemistry , community partnerships , science

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