Short Paper and Project Ideas!



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Short Paper and Project Ideas!

These questions are available as topics for the monthly papers. The papers are due on the first of each month, or the first school day after the first. They should be genuine formal research papers a maximum of two pages long (not counting pictures or bibliography). Many of these questions are possible project starting points, too - talk to me.



  • What is the lithium that is used as a psychoactive drug?

  • What is the chemical difference between saturated and unsaturated fat? Which one is not as bad for you? Why?

  • What is smog, chemically? Where does it come from? Show the chemistry.

  • In the universe in general (which was originally only hydrogen & helium), how does iron (Fe) get made?

  • What color is oxygen? Why?

  • What is a CFC and what's the big deal? Show the chemical cycle that illustrates this big deal.

  • What is hydrazine? Why does it make good rocket fuel?

  • What is Aqua Regia and why is it so great?

  • What is formic acid and where is it found?

  • What is cis-Platinum? How is it different from trans-Platinum? Who discovered it, and why do we care?

  • What is silver iodide used for?

  • What is the difference between brass and bronze? Why did civilization go through a "bronze age" but not a "brass age?"

  • What are the five major "salts" in sea water? Would you put this stuff on your eggs? Explain.

  • Name two noble gas compounds.  How can these form?  Who is "famous" that is involved in this?

  • What is Teflon?  Who "invented" it, and how?  When?

  • List five metals used in your body (besides iron), and for what your body uses them.

  • Accumulation of what element can cause "failure-to-thrive syndrome” in children? What is this all about?

  • What makes good church stained glass blue or red or whatever?  Name some of the compounds.

  • What is the "carbon cycle?" How much CO2 is in the atmosphere right now ("ish")? How much was CO2 in the atmosphere 200 years ago?

  • What is so awful about pure phosphorus?  In what form(s) can pure phosphorus be obtained?  For what is it used?

  • What is DMSO? Why would anyone care?

  • What are two alternative fuels for cars?  List some pros and cons for each.

  • What are buckeyballs or buckytubes? Why is it called that?  What's so special about it?

  • What is the difference between phosphorescence and fluorescence? What is meant by bioluminescence?  What is luciferin?

  • What is MSG? Where would this be used?

  • What was the first drug used to treat malaria?  Where did it come from?

  • What are the main chemical compounds found in comets?  How do we know?

  • Describe the chemical process for a match lighting.

  • What is the difference between dextrose and levrose?  Between glucose and fructose?

  • If paint "dries," how is it possible to wash painted walls?  What actually happens when paint dries?

  • For boats, what makes a good "bottom paint?"  Why?

  • What is the difference between a pheromone and a hormone?  Which one is more important to you, and why?

  • What is a superconductor?  So what?

  • What are bradykinins?  How much makes a difference?

  • What is lactic acid and where does it come from?  How can you tell when you have some?  What is lactose?  What is LactAid?

  • What is fluoride?  What good is it?  Why were people so freaked out about it in the 1950's?

  • Besides color, what are some differences between blond, brunette, and red hair?  How does chemistry affect this?

  • What is bleach?  How does it work?

  • What is tetra-ethyl lead and who cares?  Where can you buy some?

  • Why is mercury a liquid?  What's different about mercury and cadmium?

  • What's the chemical difference between "hard" and "soft" water?  What difference does it make to the average person?

  • What does "10W40" mean when describing motor oil?

  • What is spectral analysis?

  • What is ethylene glycol and what is it used for?  How does it work?

  • Why are tears salty?  Are all of your tears the same?

  • What is the difference between materials that are diamagnetic, paramagnetic, and ferromagnetic?  Give an example of each.

  • What is graphite? Why does it make such a good lubricant, even though its solid?

  • How does cyanide kill you?

  • What is curare? Name a good thing and a bad thing that it is used for.

  • How does carbon monoxide kill you?

  • What is the difference between human sweat and human milk?  Is it important to breast feed a newborn?  Why?

  • Where does chlorine in swimming pools come from?  Why is it there?  At what pH should a "healthy" pool be kept?

  • What is EDTA, what is it good for, and how does it work?

  • List 5 harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke, and tell what they do.

  • What is pectin? What is cellulose? Where are they found? What do they do?

  • What is gunpowder, chemically? How good an explosive is it?

  • What is the difference between silicon and silicone? What are their different properties? What are their respective best uses?

  • In order, what are the 10 most common elements on Earth.

  • In order, what are the 10 most common elements in people.

  • In order, what are the 20 most common elements in the whole entire universe. How do we know?

  • How does the liquid crystal display in your watch work?

  • What experiment made Stanley L. Miller and Harold C. Urey famous in 1953? What did they learn?

  • Read the short story “Night” by John W. Campbell, Jr. What materials made up the “snow” he walked through? What is the maximum possible temperature for this to be possible?

  • What is the composition of Jupiter's atmosphere? What is atmospheric pressure there?

  • What is the composition of the atmosphere of Mars? What is atmospheric pressure there?

  • What is the composition of the atmosphere of Venus? What is atmospheric pressure there?

  • What is terra forming? Do we care? Why or why not?

  • What is thalidomide? Why isn't it common today? When was it common? Is all thalidomide the same? Explain.

  • How does spray-on static guard work?

  • How does dry-cleaning work? Why is it "dry?" What chemical or chemicals are used? Why is this sometimes better than "regular" cleaning?  Why is it sometimes worse?

  • What is the formula for chloroform? What does it do in your body? What are the side effects?

  • What is the difference between a dye and an ink?

  • Is there such a thing as artificial blood? What is used? What is the chemical idea behind it?

  • Is it possible to breathe a liquid, like in the movie, "the Abyss?" Tell me about it.

  • Why do transition metals form so many pretty colors when dissolved in water?

  • Read the short story "The Wind From The Sun" by Arthur C. Clarke. How did these "solar sails" work? Find some for recent articles about such technology. What's the latest news? (As an alternative, you could read “Sunjammer,” also by Arthur C. Clarke.)

  • What is the formula for gibberilic acid? For what is it used for? Why is it hard to get hold?

  • What are the five most addictive drugs/substances known?

  • Of what is solid rocket fuel made? Describe some of the properties of this stuff.

  • Of what is liquid rocket fuel made? Describe some of the properties of this stuff.

  • How is it possible for cement to "dry" underwater? Describe the chemistry of this process. What is the difference between cement and concrete?

  • What is testosterone? Draw this molecule. Tell where it comes from and what it does.

  • Where is taxol found and what is it used for?

  • What is the connection between urea and ammonia and cleaning gerbil cages?

  • How much oxygen is generated by a tree in an average year? By a lawn? An acre of rain forest?

  • How much oxygen is generated in a year by the algae in one acre of surface sea water?

  • Is there such a thing as a UV or IR "rainbow?" Who would be able to see it? Where could you find one?

  • Is a rainbow really seven colors, or maybe is it six? Would someone who is color blind include “indigo?”

  • What's so primary about the primary colors?  Does it have to be THOSE three?

  • How is mercury used in the gold mining industry?

  • For what is PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) used?  Briefly describe what this is and why it is so important.

  • Where/what is the coldest place in the universe? How cold is it? Why?

  • What is the average pressure in outer space?  Support your answer/show your work.

  • What is the average temperature in outer space?  Support your answer/show your work.

  • What are endorphins? Show the chemical structure of one. Where do they come from, and what do they do?

  • Read “the Star” by Arthur C. Clarke. Write a brief summary of the story. What elements are formed in novas or supernovas?

  • What chemical makes up the film on which movies are printed (not the light sensitive ones)? What was it made of in the 1920s? Why was this a problem?

  • What's the big deal with BGH? Why wont you find it in a health food store?

  • What common substance contains theobromine? Draw the structure of this molecule, and the structure of caffeine. What does the similarity tell you?

  • What is aspartame? Draw the chemical structure, and give a brief history of this molecule.

  • What is estrogen? Draw this molecule. Tell where it comes from and what it does.

  • What is progesterone? Draw this molecule. Tell where it comes from and what it does.

  • What is tetrodotoxin? Draw this molecule. Tell where it comes from and what it does.

  • What is the chemical formula for sarin? For what is it used? What does it do?

  • What is the chemical formula for phosgene? For what is it used? What does it do?

  • What is the chemical formula for mustard gas? For what is it used? What does it do?

  • What's the latest news about diamond coatings? How are they made? For what are they used?

  • Write a short biography of Graham Young (a British criminal in the 1970’s). What eventually happened to him? He was the subject of the semi-fictional (& disturbingly funny) movie called “the Young Poisoner’s Handbook.”

  • What are the symptoms of thallium poisoning?

  • What are the symptoms of antimony poisoning?

  • What's the story with DDT? What is its chemical formula?

  • Write a short essay stating your opinion about testing new chemical products for people on animals. Make sure you back up your reasoning with facts.

  • What is the connection between Joachim Dipple, Frankenstein, and the modern method of gas chamber execution? Don't forget this is a chemistry question.  (Possible source: "Connections" by James Burke)

  • What was the “Lake Nyos Disaster?” Tell me about the chemistry involved.

  • Read “The Third Liquid” by Isaac Asimov (its an article in a book called “the Planet that Wasn't”). Summarize the article.

  • For what does the human body use folic acid?

  • What are the different types of transistors? How do their component elements affect their properties in circuits?

  • Write a brief history of anesthesia. Remember that this is a chemistry paper!

  • Compare and contrast the chemistry of ether and laughing gas.

  • Tell me about artificial noses (for smelling, not appearance). Use the September 1996 issue of Discover magazine as one of your references.

  • Read “The Unsafe Deposit Box” by Gerald Kersh (its a science fiction short story from the 1950’s). Use what you know about families and elements to discuss the degree of fiction involved. Tell me about the chemical stability of fluorine.

  • What is the structure of chloroacetophenone, formula C8H7ClO? This substance is used as tear gas.  How does it work?

  • Why do salt water fish die in fresh water, and visa versa? Are there any fish that can live in both salt water and fresh water?

  • What is napalm, chemically? How does it work? Would it make good matches?

  • Briefly describe the chemistry behind cataracts.

  • What element is used in diagnostic colonoscopy? Tell about this.

  • How do nerve gases work, generally?


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