Wilmington Early College stocks lab with Chem-Techathon winnings

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Wilmington Early College was able to purchase a variety of chemistry lab supplies and equipment after winning $2,500 in the inaugural Chem-Techathon competition. Photos courtesy New Hanover County Schools.
Wilmington Early College was able to purchase a variety of chemistry lab supplies and equipment after winning $2,500 in the inaugural Chem-Techathon competition. Photos courtesy New Hanover County Schools.

These days, Wilmington Early College High School’s chemistry classroom is looking more like a scientific research lab.

Thanks to a win in May’s Chem-Techathon, the school received a $2,500 grant to purchase a host of supplies, and teacher Grace Pittman said she and her students are putting them to good use.

“My students and I plan to use these new supplies to prepare for this coming year’s Chem-Techathon,” Pittman said.

The unique competition-style academic program was the brainchild of Tracy Holbrook, lead instructor of Cape Fear Community College’s chemical technology program.

Earlier this year, Holbrook helped the college secure a $150,000 science education grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, a private foundation that supports the biomedical sciences.

And he decided to give his winnings away.

CFCC used the money to establish “Chem-Techathon: Renewing Interest in Science Education,” a three-year program for area high school students and teachers to allow for some hands-on experience with the college’s state-of-the-art equipment.

“What we decided to do was create a program for these high school students and their teachers and expose them to some of the wonderful instrumentation that we have on our campus,” Holbrook said. “So, the $150,000 is all for them. Even though Cape Fear Community College’s name is on the check, we are not really receiving one dollar or one cent of that money.”

The team's research on tetracycline antibiotics in chicken came out as the best among this year's competing teams.
The team’s research on tetracycline antibiotics in chicken came out as the best among this year’s competing teams.

Considering CFCC is the only community college in the state that offers a chemical technology track, Holbrook said Chem-Techathon is a win-win. Chemical technology prepares students for work at environmental companies, pharmaceutical and food and beverage industries, forensics and chemical engineering, among others.

Structured as a team-based competition event, Chem-Techathon kicked off this spring and included participation from four New Hanover County schools–Ashley, Hoggard, Laney and Wilmington Early College–as well as schools in Pender County. Students and faculty advisors selected a research topic, then participated in a series of lab-based activities and instrumentation training.

The early college team came out on top with its research project on tetracycline antibiotics in chicken.

“I am so proud of our team,” Pittman, who was also the team advisor, said. “The students worked hard this past semester and it was exciting to watch them compete at the Chem-techathon.”

With the prize money, Pittman was able to purchase volumetric glassware, some probes, pH, gas pressure, conductivity and colorimeter sensors and chemistry software.

The Chem-techathon swag also consisted of various classroom demonstration kits, which help reinforce topics in stoichiometry, gas laws, chemical equilibrium and concentrations.

And the school received a chemical element set that gives students the chance to view similarities and differences among elements on the periodic table.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.