Purdue Chemistry Show 2015 gets classic with flames, carbon dioxide and potatoes


Flames, booms, bubbles, vibrant chemical reactions and gravity defying experiments are a flashy part of chemistry. Sure, most research in the Purdue Department of Chemistry’s historic labs doesn’t aim to suck eggs into a narrow beaker using flame and gas, but perhaps the razzle dazzle of such experiments got Purdue chemists interested in the field as youngsters. Enter the 2015 Purdue Chemistry Show.

As usual, the majority of the attendance of the annual event was children – potential future chemistry students and researchers. The show was led by director of lecture demonstration Paul Smith and held Oct. 3 in Wetherill Laboratory, lecture hall 200.

Smith’s theme of the morning was “Classic Demonstrations of Chemical Phenomena.” The experiments were derived many years before most of the audience members were born but that didn’t make the demonstrations any less interesting.

Lots of “oohs” and “ahs” came from classic experiments like the “great race,” where teams of boys and girls dropped their solutions into another and watched as each beaker went from clear to dark in seconds. The liquids were measured so precisely that the beakers changed one after the other in rapid succession. The boys’ beakers barely beat the girls’ beakers in the chemical race.

Smith created gas bubbles from solid carbon dioxide, water, plastic tubing and paper towel soaked in Dawn dish detergent. The bubbles would emerge from the tall apparatus and drop to the ground before bouncing a couple times and popping. With each pop, the carbon dioxide gas would rise before disappearing.

Speaking of pops, Smith created a potato gun in about two minutes from two pieces of brass tubing, a potato and natural gasses. With one tube, he stabbed the spud to clog one end with organic material and did the same on the other end, trapping gasses within the tube. Using pressure and the gasses, the second tube was slid inside the first causing a loud boom and potato debris that shot against a wall in Wetherill 200.

The young audience applauded and witnessed just how exciting chemistry can be.

Paul Smith

Paul Smith, director of lecture demonstration for the Department of Chemistry, readies another impressive exhibit at the 2015 Purdue Chemistry Show.

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