The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry provides two summer outreach programs that incorporate cultural heritage into chemistry lectures. Each year, dozens of Oklahoma high school students engage in the extraction of chemicals from the Echinacea purpurea plants. E. purpurea is indigenous to Oklahoma and the plant is important to many Native American tribes located in our State. This provides a natural platform to connect the main discipline areas of chemistry (organic, inorganic, analytical, biochemistry, physical), chemical separations (TLC and HPLC) and chemical analysis (mass spectrometry) with the cultural heritage of Oklahomans (Anthropology, Native American Studies, sociology) and other STEM disciplines (biology, geography, weather).
“The STEM-to-Store Academy and Sooner Upward Bound have the purpose of encouraging Oklahoma high school students to enter STEM fields, especially chemistry. The curriculum focuses on the chemicals in traditional herbal remedies of Native American cultures. Students work in the Department’s research building, the Stephenson Life Sciences Research Center, to isolate chemicals rather than testing the medical efficiency of the compounds. Students work in small groups to identify, count and measure different parts of the plant: roots, leaves, flowers and stems. The students compare their measurements with the other groups and the plant material is dried, chopped and mixed with isopropanol to extract the relevant compounds of Echinacea. The products are separated with column chromatography and analyzed with mass spectrometry. During this process, the students interface with faculty, undergraduate and graduate level students. Students present their findings via a poster session in the Stephenson Life Sciences Research Center. Faculty and students in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as well as the families of the students are invited to attend. Students are allowed to take their posters home to share with their classmates and teachers. In this manner the impact spreads beyond the OU campus experience.