Bangs and smells

Yes, a Chemistry lecture. I had just got back from a work trip to London when Katy persuaded me to take the children back to where we used to live for a public family Chemistry lecture, while she was out teaching. We managed to feed them quickly and got there just after the introduction, but had to sit near the back. In an ideal world I would have taken just J or J+K, but had to take all of them. L was tired, and while things were happening was fine, but the mild explanations and introductions were too boring. A wriggled, quietly enough, but was further gone than L. The boys enjoyed it though.

The lecturer made me think of someone’s grandfather, pottering around in his shed, showing things to his grandchildren. Some of the things would be because he thought they’d like them, and some were because he just liked them so much he was going to show them anyway. A little bit of explanation, but mostly just fun stuff. That the grandfather happened to have a shed remarkably well stocked in strong and dangerous chemicals, and the grandfather happened to be a Chemistry professor was just by-the-by.

We had squash bottles on launch ramps being jet-propelled by burning hydrogen, burning crisps in liquid oxygen (surprisingly large flame), melting iron, and a clock reaction. He did a couple in enormous glass ball-shaped jars – one was burning phosphorous, which gave off lots of smoke that was lit up by the flames so that it glowed, and the the other was little orange sparks going up like fireflies or baby fireworks – magical.

He also did a bit about the scientific process, how you can only disprove things, and that no matter what the outcome of an experiment you win (by gaining more knowledge). He then blew bubbles in bubble mixture, with the bubbles containing a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen, and asked people to say if they thought the bubbles would go bang when he lit them or just burn quietly. They burned quietly as there wasn’t much oxygen.

I dread to think how much all the chemicals cost that he gaily burned or melted in the course of the hour, but it was all good stuff.

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