ashland.news
July 24, 2024

Here comes the boom: ‘Exploding stuff can be fun’

Anna Oliveri, left, and Cecilia Uglade light up a methane bubble. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
December 5, 2023

SOU Chemistry Club students explore elements of science with annual ‘Fall into Chemistry’ live demo

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

Exploding gummy bears, self-carving pumpkins, elephant toothpaste and plumes of fire from erupting chemical reactions, oh my!

Students and members of the public filed into the Science Auditorium on Friday afternoon — not for a lecture, but for the annual “Fall into Chemistry” live demonstration at Southern Oregon University. The event was both a way to demonstrate the skills of upper division chemistry students and give high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds a front row seat to the fun to be had in the Chemistry Department at SOU.

The audience was greeted with a ‘Welcome to Fall into Chemistry!’ on Friday, Dec. 1, at SOU. Behind table, from left, are Tessa Perri and Meigan Feekes. Standing in front, from left, are Anna Oliveri, Karson McCoy, Kalea Adams, Patrick Latham and Simon Griggs. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

“So, how many people like gummy bears?” asked SOU student Taylor Jackson. “We’re going to make them explode today. It’s going to be fun.”

Jackson showed the audience what happens when potassium chlorate, a “super-strong oxidizer,” is paired with a gummy bear, a candy that’s full of sugar: “We’re going to get a fun combustion reaction and you’re going to get to see it today.”

Pouring ethanol is Meigan Feekes. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

“She’s in a safe spot,” said Anna Oliveri, assistant professor of Chemistry and Chemistry Department chair, assured the audience.

“And we’re all wearing lab coats and goggles,” another student noted.

Taylor Jackson prepares a “screaming” gummy bear. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

Demonstrations continued to wow audience members, made up of area residents, SOU students, and high school students from around the Rogue Valley attending through Youth+, an organization that prepares low-income youth for college, career and life.

SOU sophomore Cecilia Ugalde was the brave volunteer who agreed to participate in a methane bubble demonstration with Oliveri.

“I’m gonna trap methane gas bubbles, and I’m going to light them on fire,” Oliveri said.

“Water has a really amazing ability to hold heat so we’re actually going to hold these bubbles in our hand and light them on fire.”

Meigan Feekes tends to colored flames. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

Holding out her palm with methane gas bubbles in hand, Ugalde helped Oliveri showcase a methane bubble demonstration that suddenly erupted with fire in Ugalde’s hand — as anticipated.

“I definitely knew that there were going to be flames involved,” Ugalde said, following the demonstration.

Another fiery demonstration, known as “self-carving pumpkin,” appeared popular to the crowd, both young and old.

“Who’s ready to blow stuff up?” a student said.

Kalea Adams, left, stands by as Jeff Armitage ignites a hydrogen balloon. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

With the lights turned down, students Patrick Latham and Simon Griggs demonstrated the “self-carving pumpkin” by adding calcium carbide with water inside the pumpkin, causing the buildup of acetylene gas and combustion; sending the cutout pieces of pumpkin flying — safely.

The result was a pumpkin straight out of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” — a fire-filled pumpkin that shot out pre-carved pieces, with the appearance of carving itself. The demonstration was especially the favorite of 5-1/2-year-old Ellis Donegan, who was sitting in the first few rows.

Simon Griggs, left, and Patrick Latham ignite a “self-carving pumpkin” (synthesis and combustion of acetylene gas). Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

The event is the sixth such demonstration Oliveri has held in conjunction with her students, who run the entire program. The demonstration was previously held by the Physics Department before the department was eliminated. Oliveri brought it back in fall 2017.

“I don’t see any stains or anything that got burnt back here — success!” Oliveri said, as the event ended.

The Chemistry Club holds the demonstration as one of many club events, but this is the most interactive.

Patrick Latham handles thermite balls of aluminum and iron oxide. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini

“This is the one where we show science to the community the most,” Oliveri said, “which is what then, I think, brings new students in the future.”

Chemistry Club President Kalea Adams, a senior, helped organize the event.

“There’s a lot of chemistry students that join because they’re like, ‘What cool fire can I make?

What stuff can I blow up?’” Adams said. 

She noted there is much more to it than that, however.

“We do learn a lot of technical skills,” Adams said, “… (but) exploding stuff can be fun.”

Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

Simon Griggs shows off alkaline metals reacting with water. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
Karson McCoy prepares some “elephant toothpaste” (decomposition of hydrogen peroxide). Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
Karson McCoy prepares some “elephant toothpaste” (decomposition of hydrogen peroxide). Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
Simon Griggs shows off alkaline metals reacting with water. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
Anna Oliveri, left, and Cecilia Uglade light up a methane bubble. Ashland.news photo by Bob Palermini
Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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