A good chemistry show can open the minds of young people to the wonders of science. A fiery explosion or two helps.
The University of Victoria’s Chemistry Students’ Society is hosting a show on Thursday that promises energetic and colourful chemical reactions, while raising money for the United Way of Greater Victoria.
UVic chemistry professor Alexandre Brolo is leading the demonstrations, and is following in the long tradition of retired professor Reginald Mitchell (a.k.a. Dr. Zonk), who held science shows for kids since the mid-1970s.
“We don’t dress up (like Dr. Zonk), but we try to make a lot of chemical reactions that are visually appealing, especially ones that will get the kids exciting and curious about science,” Brolo said.
The experiments progress from basic reactions like those that produce colour changes in a liquid, to spicy concoctions that generate masses of growing foam, to experiments that rapidly shrink Styrofoam cups.
The perennial favourites are things that go boom, which is where the ethanol cannons and hydrogen balloons come in.
“Hydrogen balloons explode very loud. But if you mix hydrogen with oxygen, they explode much louder,” Brolo said laughing. “I like the explosions. They get the most response from the audience. Everyone likes a good explosion.”
Brolo has taken the helm of the chemistry show for about four years, but he’s an old hand at wowing audiences. He did similar shows in his native Brazil in the 1980s.
“The main thing is to make science interesting and enjoyable. With kids who are young, we want to wake their curiosity, to ask questions and understand the phenomena they’re looking at can be explained.”
The chemistry show is on Nov. 22, 7 p.m. at the Bob Wright Centre at UVic. Entry is $9.50 with proceeds going to the United Way.