FAIRFIELD — A possible polluter of the Kennebec River avoided detection Tuesday morning.

But that’s only because 24 junior investigators had to go to their next class at Lawrence Junior High School.

Colby College professor Julie Millard and college seniors Ben Bricker and Teko Mmolawa had about 45 minutes to lead students through a hands-on sleuthing science exercise in teacher Charles Andrews’ seventh-grade science class.

Bricker and Mmolawa are two of nine college students taking K-8 Chemistry Outreach Activities, a Jan Plan course taught by Millard and professor Lisa Miller.

Students in the three-credit course are developing age-appropriate science experiments that illustrate the relevance of chemistry, according to the course description.

Bricker’s project challenged the seventh graders to determine which fictional business, or businesses, was dumping pollutants into the river by testing water samples taken at three spots along the waterway.

Was the imaginary pollutant a textile factory’s dye, an autobody shop’s antifreeze, two dry cleaning stores’ starch, a winery’s vinegar, a hardware store’s ice melt mixture or a day spa’s Epsom salts?

The seventh graders had considerable resources at hand, including a spectrophotometer and a black light, to help them pinpoint the culprit.

Kassie Joler ran out of time to complete all the testing required to gather the evidence, but before she darted to her next class, Joler said she liked the fact that the experiment involved more than reading and writing.

Millard said by the time January wraps up, Colby students will have shared their love of science with second graders through high schoolers in Benton, Fairfield, Madison, New Sharon, Oakland and Waterville.

One popular experiment at an area elementary school involved discovering a secret message written with ink invisible to the naked eye, said Millard.

Colby students, Millard said, have a variety of motivations for taking the class and they invest a lot of time and personality into crafting the experiments.

“I think the most enjoyable part is seeing how much the kids enjoy doing science,” said Millard, who has taught chemistry for more than two decades on the Mayflower Hill campus.

Before going into local schools, Bricker said that he and his classmates tried out the experiments with professors’ children.

While the month-long teaching experience is intensive, not all the Colby students in the class plan to enter the teaching field.

Bricker, who said both his parents and an older brother are teachers, is pre-med.

Millard said two other Colby students taking the Jan Plan are also pre-med and one plans to join the Peace Corps.

Mmolawa, who is majoring in English and French, said he may enter graduate school or teach at a fourth-grade level or below. K-8 Chemistry Outreach Activities is providing valuable experience, he said.

“I thought they wouldn’t listen, but it’s really been fun,” Mmolawa said.

Jan Plan, which offers “distinctive opportunities not ordinarily available during the traditional academic semesters,” has been fun for 50 years. It’s mission is to help students develop “innovative thinking, independent work, creativity, intellectual exploration and experimentation.”

According to an article by Stephen Collins in Colby Magazine, Jan Plan was suggested “as a solution to a nagging scheduling complaint.”

December holidays had interrupted and delayed the end of the semester until January. So in 1962, Colby wrapped up first semester in December and launched its pioneering month-long intensive program.

Last year 36 students took part in international internships in 25 different countries, according to Collins.

The courses include Introduction to Financial Decision Making; News Literacy; Catholic Church and Hollywood ; Nuclear Magnetic Resonance; Italian I in Sicily; and Special Topics in Health and Medicine: Substance Use and Abuse.

For Bricker, K-8 Chemistry Outreach Activities meant that Tuesday he conducted the same sleuth science experiment three times with 63 students.

“I thought it would be daunting,” he said. “But I love it.”

Beth Staples — 861-9252

bstaples@centralmaine.com