Chemistry Club Paints The Town

Chemistry Club Paints The Town
Argentina Ornelas, a past treasurer of SAACS, gets splashed with paint but doesn't seem to mind.
William Benaquista applies detail to the house.
Chemistry Professor Charles Millner waterblasts peeling paint off the house.

On a recent Saturday in Pomona, a group of chemistry students volunteered to paint a home in dire need of a facelift. However, their hard work hardly began or ended with one day of physical labor.

About 20 students, who are members of the Student Affiliates of American Chemical Society (SAACS), used paint that they developed over the course of a year in the Chemistry department's paint & coatings program. The paint is environmentally friendly since it generates no air pollutants.

“It was a genuine test of their work – applying the very thing they have spent several quarters formulating, mixing and testing,” said William Benaquista, an instructional support technician for the Chemistry department. “They not only found out that their work was worthwhile, they helped a family in need.”

The “Paint Party” on May 19 marked the fourth time the SAACS club partnered with the Pomona-based charitable organization Willy White Park Focus Group. The annual charity work allows the students to help local families and test their paint, which has no volatile organic compounds or zero VOC.

Professors, staff and alumni also participated in the “Paint Party.”

About four years ago, Charles Millner, the chemistry club's co-advisor and one of two paint & coatings instructors, sought out a way to make practical use and application of the paints the students made each year. He in turn met Joyce and Vernon Price, and two alumnae Tom and Lynda Quinn, members of the Willy White Focus Group. Together they came up with a plan — to find a worthy household in the city of Pomona who needed their house painted. Thus the annual “Paint Party” was created.

“With so many people participating, it took only one day to go from a shabby looking house sorely in need of a facelift, to a nice neat and trim house with a fresh appearance,” Benaquista said.

This year, the paint was made using a 10 HP 50 gallon paint mixer in the paint lab in Building 8. The paint is almost odorless and can be thinned out with plain water. The brushes and rollers can likewise be cleaned by soaking in ordinary water.

“Students tested the paint in the lab, but it takes a real-life application, like painting an entire house, to really see what it can do,” Benaquista said.  ”It was obvious that the paint had good hiding power and did not sag. Annoyingly, they found out that it stuck to skin quite well and was hard to wash off once it dried. This was a good feature though, because it meant that it had good adhesion to the house as well, and will likely last many years.”

Most paint on the market has a high percentage of VOCs and is ultimately not good for the environment or for the painter, according to V.C. Bud Jenkins, a paint formulation expert and Millner's counterpart in the paint & coatings program.

The students' environmentally friendly work has sparked interest from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD). A representative from the air quality agency has taken samples from the lab and the “Paint Party” and will be testing the paint as well, Jenkins said.

This project would not be possible without the generous material donations used to make the paint. The following companies donated: BASF, M Chemical Co., Akzo Nobel and BYK-Chemie.