You have supported more than 200 projects over the past ten years. Thinking about all the ideas that were proposed in this time, to what extent would you say chemistry as a school subject has changed?
Jansen: A lot has changed since we launched the initiative in 2008. We are witnessing a trend in the direction of ever greater interconnectivity between chemistry, physics, mathematics, and IT, in other words the MINT subjects. Schools wishing to make a mark with their teaching of natural sciences will need to offer a joined-up MINT concept in the future. As our education initiative also supports interdisciplinary projects, we help schools on their way to achieving this, with some of them even becoming MINT schools. We were initially skeptical as these topics diverged from conventional chemistry. But after a number of interdisciplinary projects, it became clear to us that MINT was the future.
So it’s not just about chemistry, it’s about MINT. Does this development influence which projects you select in the future?
Jansen: Yes, we are seeing a trend in the direction of a MINT focus in the project submissions. Chemistry is part of MINT, after all. We are currently receiving a lot of requests for support with digitalized projects relating to MINT, for example. At the same time, topics of a more environmental nature always appeal to schoolchildren, such as water and environmental pollution. One school in Dormagen now even has a MINT club. Among other things, senior pupils have built a water rocket with which they measure trajectories and distances. This is no longer “pure” chemistry as a subject, but the schoolchildren get very involved in this kind of project, and this is something we are more than happy to support. In this respect, interdisciplinary MINT teaching is exciting for us, too.
What have been the most unusual experiments that you and the schoolchildren have experienced over the years?
Jansen: There are a number that come to my mind. In Brunsbüttel, for example, a high school class built an entire energy house in their schoolyard. The energy house was firstly equipped with various sensors and a weather station and was fully insulated, allowing the schoolchildren to directly measure, calculate, and compare energy conservation effects. This was followed by ninth grade pupils working in small groups to independently produce the synthetic materials polystyrene, polyurethane, and polyphenolic resin on a laboratory scale, for use as the synthetic insulating materials in the energy house. These insulating materials were used in the house one after the other and the building exterior was then recorded on a thermal imaging camera, allowing the pupils to compare the insulation properties of the three different synthetic plastics. This is what modern MINT teaching is all about.
At a secondary school in Bergkamen, all the grades are working on a herb garden. Each grade has its own patch, where the schoolchildren learn about plant growth and photosynthesis in different ways according to their ages. And then there was a project relating to flavorings in which the schoolchildren created their own fragrances and perfumes. And a class in Dormagen is currently developing a luminous sneaker, which teaches them among other things about how to build an electrical circuit.
We also arrange laboratory days for secondary schools, with exclusive tours of the plants for pupils aged 14 and above. This affords them practical insights into the work of a chemical company and gives them the opportunity to experiment in a real chemistry laboratory. In short, the work of the initiative is very diverse and is still interesting ten years down the line. It is immensely important to us as a company that we connect with tomorrow’s chemists, engineers, and physicists while they are still in school and that we make them fit for the future.