photo of glassware in a chemistry lab

Why does chemistry matter in my life?

By Lisa Hibler

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

Students will work in groups to research an alternative energy source. They will then prepare a five-minute summary of their energy source and present the material to the class as part of a mock TV game show called “Where’s The Chemistry?” In order to determine the winning team, the audience (classmates) will vote for the group whose alternate energy source shows the most potential at the end of the show.

Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • be able to explain the pros and cons of several alternate energy possibilities.
  • explain how chemistry is part of the search for alternate energy sources.
  • prepare and present concise and accurate information on their energy choice.

Teacher planning

Time required

Two 85-minute periods

Materials needed


  • Students should have an understanding of thermochemistry prior to the lesson.


  1. Hand out the “Where’s The Chemistry?” student worksheet.
  2. Explain the scenario to the class: They have been invited as experts in their alternate energy field to be contestants on the very popular TV show Where’s The Chemistry? Each week the show explores the chemistry in common products. This week’s episode focuses on alternative energy. The winner of the show is determined by audience vote. Explain that the students will be the audience, but they cannot vote for their own group.
  3. Pre-assign or allow students to select the alternative energy option they will work on. Have them research their topic and prepare their five-minute presentation. (See suggested resources below for topics and relevant websites for student research. These suggestions also appear on the student handout.) Encourage them to assume roles as though they truly were contestants in a game show.
  4. Arrange the classroom for the presentations so that there is an area for the contestants in the front of the room. Have each group present its presentation. You may encourage the students watching to take notes on what they liked or disliked about a given presentation. When all groups are done, have the students vote on the winning presentation. Remind students that they cannot vote for their own group.


Assess according to the following rubric:

How is it made?Clearly explains how energy is derived from this source. Includes the chemistry of this energy source.Explains how energy is derived from this source, but doesn’t show all chemistry involved.Vague explanation with little chemistry.Does not address the chemistry involved in this energy source.
Resources available to produce and distribute this fuelClearly explains resources required to produce and distribute this fuel.Explains the resources needed, but lacks some detail.Vague explanation of the required resources.No explanation of required resources.
Cost effectivenessClearly and quantitatively shows the cost effectiveness of the energy choice.Some quantitative explanation of cost effectiveness.Vague explanation of cost effectiveness.Cost effectiveness is not addressed.
What will it take to make this energy choice a reality?Clearly and accurately explains obstacles that must be overcome.Accurately states obstacles, but not clearly explained.Obstacles mentioned are semi-accurate and poorly explained.Obstacles are not addressed.
Audience appealThe presentation was convincing and engaging.The presentation was engaging, but not necessarily convincing.The presentation was somewhat engaging and convincing.The presentation was not engaging or convincing.
References5 sources neatly typed in MLA format.4 sources neatly typed in MLA format or 5 sources not typed or not in MLA format.3 sources neatly typed in MLA format.Fewer than 3 sources.

Suggested resources

The following resources, which also appear on the student activity sheet, may help students begin their research.

Starting points

Nuclear energy

Solar energy

Hydrogen fuel cell

Ethanol from corn

Ethanol from sugar

Ethanol from cellulose (Biofine process)

Biodiesel from algae

Ethanol from bacteria

Electric hybrid

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Science (2005)

Grade 9–12 — Chemistry

  • Goal 4: The learner will build an understanding of energy changes in chemistry.
    • Objective 4.02: Analyze the law of conservation of energy, energy transformation, and various forms of energy involved in chemical and physical processes.
      • Differentiate between heat and temperature.
      • Analyze heating and cooling curves.
      • Calorimetry, heat of fusion and heat of vaporization calculations.
      • Endothermic and exothermic processes including interpretation of potential energy.
      • Diagrams (energy vs reaction pathway), enthalpy and activation energy.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Science (2010)
      • Chemistry

        • Chm.2.1Understand the relationship among pressure, temperature, volume, and phase. Chm.2.1.1 Explain the energetic nature of phase changes. Chm.2.1.2 Explain heating and cooling curves (heat of fusion, heat of vaporization, heat, melting point, and boiling...
        • Chm.2.2 Analyze chemical reactions in terms of quantities, product formation, and energy. Chm.2.2.1 Explain the energy content of a chemical reaction. Chm.2.2.2 Analyze the evidence of chemical change. Chm.2.2.3 Analyze the Law of Conservation of Matter and...
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