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October 21, 2019
The collection of colorful cloth blocks, each representing an element in the periodic table, stretched for 108 yards across the field at the Kelly Family Sports Center on the Allendale Campus.
Its primary purpose was as an attempt to set a world record for the largest periodic table, done in conjunction with National Chemistry Week and the 150th anniversary of the periodic table.
But infused in the October 19 event was a celebration of science, from the scientific demonstrations eliciting "oohs" and "ahs" to children excitedly asking, "What's a periodic table?" and "What's an element?"
"Chemistry touches you every day. You're breathing it in with every breath you take," said Michelle DeWitt, lead lab supervisor for the Grand Valley Chemistry Department and event organizer.
DeWitt plans to send to Guinness World Records the laser measurements done by Grand Valley experts so the periodic table that was assembled can be recognized as the world's largest.
DeWitt spent months coordinating and collecting the 118 blocks that consisted of six fastened tablecloths containing the atomic number, element name, element symbol and atomic weight of each element in the periodic table.
Representatives from schools, businesses and organizations across the state, country and even India sent in blocks, which measured 18 feet by 13.5 feet. Each block contained creative touches, such as a salt shaker used on sodium (Na, No. 11).
More than 200 volunteers helped place the blocks, clean up and run the event, DeWitt said. Though DeWitt was ready with contingencies, every assigned block came in — though a handful came in right under the wire. The event also drew curious attendees, including some from out of state.
Student volunteer Laura Kapanowski, a nursing major, jumped at the chance to help with the event after hearing about it in chemistry class.
"I love the periodic table and how all of these scientists discovered the elements and that there are still some out there that we don't know about," Kapanowski said.
Heidi Evenocheck, '08, a market research analyst for Amway, was part of a team demonstrating scientific experiments involving the different nature of metals. Evenocheck, who is pursuing a master's degree in biostatistics at Grand Valley, said events like this help demystify chemistry for both children and parents.
"There is a wonderment, but what I like is that something that seems so cool can also be explained," she said.
The attempt at the world record was done in conjunction with the American Chemistry Society - Western Michigan Local Section.