Close encounters with creative chemical thinking: An outreach presentation using movie clips about the elemental composition of aliens and extraterrestrial minerals

Mark A. Griep, Marjorie L. Mikasen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


To introduce more chemistry into a middle and high school bioengineering camp experience, we developed an educational and entertaining presentation that examines the chemistry in movies about aliens and minerals from outer space. Our goal was to help the campers to think creatively about the bioengineering projects they are doing and about its chemistry. After watching each movie clip, we explain whether the chemistry in the clip is real or fake, and then describe the real chemistry that inspired it. The chemical touchstone for the presentation is the periodic table. First, the campers learn that aliens in five movies are composed of the same elements as those found on Earth, although some do not have the same biochemistry. The second half of the talk is about the utility of extraterrestrial minerals of known composition. The campers learn that moviemakers speculate that people of the future might visit other celestial bodies to collect scarce minerals with known properties. The topics of alien biochemistry and extraterrestrial minerals are not often taught in the classroom. The pairing works well, however, for chemical outreach because it shows students how to bring divergent thoughts together to solve problems and, therefore, encourages creative chemical thinking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)154-162
Number of pages9
JournalEducacion Quimica
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 1 2016



  • High school
  • Middle school
  • Multimedia-based learning
  • Outreach
  • Periodic table

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Education

Cite this