Rams teammates get a real dose of chemistry in UCI demos

In just one 15-minute session, UC Irvine professor Jennifer Prescher showed the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive linemen how to shatter, crush and burn the competition — with chemistry.

The chemistry instructor teamed up with two of her department colleagues and four graduate students to present demonstrations for some of the NFL team’s players Wednesday at UCI’s Rowland Hall.

As part of the Rams’ summer training camp at the university, the players have been using various classrooms in Rowland Hall to watch videos and study for the upcoming season.

As the athletes moved into the chemistry department’s territory in July, Prescher and Rams defensive line coach Mike Waufle crossed paths.

“I told him I actually taught chemistry in that classroom they were using,” Prescher said. “He said it would be great to hold a demo and that it would be educational and fun for [the players].”

By Wednesday, Prescher and her team were ready to show the 12 defensive linemen how to “up their game” with chemistry.

In the first lesson, the group showed the players how to “light the way” for their team.

After Prescher poured together liquid luminol with sodium hydroxide and bleach in a glass conical flask, she held up the flask to show a purple, glowing solution.

The Rams oohed and aahed at the concoction.

Prescher then set aside the flask and had the graduate students show how to make toothpaste with soap, hydrogen peroxide and yeast.

According to Prescher, the UCI chemistry department’s grad students routinely do the same demonstrations for grade schools throughout Orange County as part of the department’s outreach efforts.

“I’ve done these for elementary, middle and high school … pretty much everyone, except for NFL players,” said Erika Lucas, a graduate student from Prescher’s demo group. “Now I can add that onto my list.”

For the Rams classroom, the group spent about a week preparing demos with the most relevance to football, Prescher said.

“It was fun trying to adapt [the demos] for a very different audience,” graduate student David Dawson said. “If I was told a year ago that I would help lead a demo in front of the L.A. Rams, I would not have believed it.”

For the next lesson, the class moved outside of Rowland Hall where the grad students had liquid nitrogen-soaked foam footballs and gummy bears in test tubes ready for the Rams.

The students laid the footballs, which turned rock-hard from the nitrogen, on the ground and handed the players mallets to crush the frozen foam.

As the linemen wrapped their huge hands around the small wooden mallets and hammered the footballs, icy vapor rose from the broken pieces after each smash.

Moving from cold to hot, the students placed green and red gummy bears — green for the Seattle Seahawks and red for the San Francisco 49ers — into their own test tubes.

After using an oxidizer to make contact with the gummies, the bears became bright and hot, showing the players how they could “burn the competition.”

For the last lesson, Prescher and her team showed the Rams how they can “leave their mark.”

A wooden board had black magnesium powder sprinkled on it to depict the Rams’ logo.

After lighting the board on fire, graduate student David Row poured a bucket of sand on it. He uncovered the board to show the head of the ram logo burned into the wood. The Rams hollered and cheered.

While some teachers may shudder at the thought of instructing a class of players more than 6 feet tall and over 200 pounds, for Prescher, it’s all in a day’s work.

“Twelve linemen is nothing compared to 400 freshmen,” she said with a laugh.