Every incoming student to UW-Madison planning on getting a degree in the sciences or in anticipation of a medical career is required to take introductory chemistry at some point early in their academic career. One lasting element of these courses, intended to generate excitement in the large lecture halls packed with students, is the explosion show, in which the professors ignite and explode a variety of compounds and chemical mixtures to demonstrate basic principles of chemistry.
One student shot nearly a dozen short videos of a recent demonstration, one of the most interesting focusing upon the combustion of nitrogen triiodide (NI3), a compound that can explode with the touch of a feather.
All of these videos follow below, with the first clip featuring a peacock feather leading the way.
Each of the other ten videos from the UW-Madison Chemistry 103 class taught by lecturers Mark Wendt and James Maynard focuses upon a different reaction, err, explosion. Most of these clips are fairly short in length, so pay attention:
- The show begins with a demonstration of an enclosed ethanol combustion reaction.
- The second video depicts the bright and colorful display created by ignition of a mix of nitrogen oxide (NO) and carbon disulfide (CS2).
- The next video features a white powder being ignited by an electrical current.
- Another demonstration eliciting an interested reaction from the lecture hall is a nitrocellulose combustion. More specifically, it features the burning of a piece of cotton treated by a nitrating agent, also known as guncotton.
- The fifth video features the simple (and loud) explosion of a hydrogen-filled balloon.
- Then there's this demonstration featuring the ignition of a balloon filled with hydrogen and lithium.
- The next video depicts the even brighter ignition of a balloon containing hydrogen and gold.
- Similarly, this demonstration features the ignition of a balloon containing hydrogen and iron.
- One of the longer videos features multiple demonstrations of ethanol combustion, complete with bottles popping their corks into the lecture hall.
- The final, longest, and most detailed demonstration features "underwater fireworks," which are created by the mixture of chlorine and acetylene gasses, when the former and calcium carbide (CaC2) are added to water.
Younger students and the general public can experience some of these reactions up close, or on their TV screens, with the Science is Fun demonstration series held for decades by UW-Madison Professor Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, a long-time leader in the effort to improve scientific literacy, particularly amongst non-scientists in the U.S.
One of his major programs is Science if Fun, a multimedia program that begins with his live and broadcast demonstrations and proceeds with experiments that can be performed at home, many of which focus on the basics of chemistry. Over the first weekend of December, Shakhashiri held his 37th annual Once Upon a Christmas Cheery... show featuring chemical demonstrations; this will be rebroadcast on Wisconsin Public Television over the weekend immediately preceding the holiday.