A Halloween Chemistry Show

Halloween demo

Authors: Katherine A. Bussey, Annie R. Cavalier, Samantha A. Moorhead, Erin F. Reinhart, and Kayode D. Oshin.

Department of Chemistry and Physics, Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana 5 46556, United States

For over five decades, Saint Mary’s Affiliate of the American Chemical Society (SMAACS) has been an active student club at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame IN. The main objective of the chemistry club is to generate interest in the sciences, while stimulating a pursuit for continued education and hopefully careers in STEM fields. To achieve this, several interactive events are organized by the club throughout the academic year including the Halloween Chemistry Show. This event was initiated in the fall of 2013 to inspiring reviews and has become an annual activity at Saint Mary’s College. The last two years have produced an average turnout of 120 children in attendance with an average audience of 200 people. It has been a positive and fulfilling experience for club members and attendees; leading to the chapter’s spotlight in the ACS student member magazine (inChemistry, Sep/Oct 2014) and an honorable mention award presented to the club by the American Chemical Society in 2014. Herein, we would like to outline details of our Halloween Chemistry Show for other clubs and groups that have an interest in organizing a similar demonstration.

SAINT MARY’S COLLEGE HALLOWEEN CHEMISTRY SHOW

Pre-Event Logistics
During the summer preceding each fall semester, club officers and members are asked to research demonstrations that are safe, cost effective, and thought provoking. All ideas are presented during the first officers meeting in the fall and a preliminary condensed list of demonstrations is compiled for a test run by club members. After the initial test run, a final list incorporating demonstrations that consistently work and fit our desired timeframe for the show is assembled. Over the last two years, we have developed a list of specific demonstrations that satisfy our requirements and are always entertaining new ideas submitted my club members each year. Once a final demonstration list is generated, supplies are purchased weeks ahead of the show date and all experiments prepped by student member volunteers a week prior to the event.

EVENT WEEK

We work closely with the special events office to select and reserve a location on campus that meets our demonstration needs that year. They help us setup furniture and electrical needs based on submitted designs. Figure 1 shows the designs that were used in 2013 (A-1 & 2) and 2014 (B). The green tables are used for main stage demos and the blue tables are used for hands-on demos. The dotted areas are outlined on the floor with tape and reserved for kids to sit after completing hands-on demos to watch the main stage demos. A smaller venue was used in 2013 so tables were moved back to accommodate the main stage demo sitting area for children after hands-on activities.

Figure 1. Room design for Halloween Chemistry Show in 2013 (A) and 2014 (B).

All demonstration materials are brought to the venue and arranged a day before the event. Student volunteers decorate the venue with traditional Halloween decorations; and in keeping with the science theme, several specimen (full skeletons, various skulls, plastic body parts, and preserved species) loaned to us by the biology department are incorporated in the design. Children who attend the show enjoy the ambiance and spend some time exploring artifacts before the show starts. Club members also work with the media relations office to advertise the event to the community as it is open to the public. Press releases are provided to campus and local newspapers, as well as blogs. A select group of students visit local television stations to carry out some demonstrations and present a visual of the show to viewers. For the 2014 show, we had one local news station broadcast live the morning of the event, with students present to carry out short demonstrations (see supporting information section for video samples). 

Figure 2. 2014 Chemistry Show Demonstration in Glen Ellyn, IL.

The Event

The show is designed to (i) be as safe as possible, (ii) be as interactive as possible, (iii) highlight simple yet thought provoking demonstrations that can be carried out at home, (iv) provide children with material to take home for continued stimulus, (v) provide parent and guardians in attendance enough information to be able to replicate demos at home, (vi) provide a scientific context to explain demonstrations, and (vii) provide an exciting show for all in attendance. Subsequently, our show is divided into three sections; (1) hands-on demonstrations, (2) main-stage demonstrations, and (3) ice-cream finale. Experimental details for all sections are provided in the supporting information section. The show begins with three hands-on demonstrations as children gather around tables staffed by club members outlined in Figure 1. They all work through the following demonstrations in unison which takes about 40 minutes to complete; (a) invisible ink,1  (b) glowing slime,2 and (c) dry ice bubble.3

(a) invisible ink: this fun demonstration allows children to write “secret” messages to their friends on a piece of paper using q-tips and phenolphthalein. The message cannot be seen by anyone until their friends spray the paper with a “magic liquid” (ammonia) and quickly erase the message with a second “magic liquid” (vinegar). This process can be repeated several times producing the same effect and incorporates cheap, readily available supplies that can be purchased locally. The kids take home their piece of paper and can continue the demonstration with friends at home or create new ones.

(b) glowing slime: participants make one big pot of glowing slime for the table using everyday household items available locally. Each table can have a different color of slime which will be placed in small individual transparent take-home containers. Once every child has a container full of slime, lights in the room are turned off for everyone to see the glowing effect. This is the second hands-on demo kids take home as they can put the container on their nightstand and watch it glow when they go to bed at night.

(c) dry ice bubble: with assistance from student members wearing protective gloves, kids are walked through a demonstration with water, dish soap, and dry ice placed in a glass bowl. Carbon dioxide gas is generated from the dry ice placed in water and trapped by a soapy mixture on the rim of the glass bowls. Giant bubble are created and popped repeatedly. This inevitably turns into a game of who can make the biggest bubble.

After hands-on demonstrations, students are ushered to sit on the floor in the taped region of the room to watch some main stage demonstrations, usually lasting about 30 minutes. As this transition occurs, some fun is had with a giant air-gun made from a large trash-can to knock off Styrofoam cups placed on top of volunteers. Once everyone is seated, student members go through the following demonstrations; (e) the clock reaction,4 (f) colorful indicators,4 and (g) elephant toothpaste.5 Other tested demonstrations that can be added or substituted in place of these are provided in the supporting information section. To preserve the interactive theme of the show, volunteers are selected from the audience to assist club members with these demonstrations. This is usually a simple action like pouring a liquid into a vessel. After the main stage demonstrations, kids are ushered back to the hands-on tables to end the night by making ice-cream using liquid nitrogen.6 The kids and parents all join in and walk away with a sweet treat at the end of the show along with materials from the initial hands-on demonstrations.

We would like to share an e-mail SMAACS received from a parent after the Halloween show in 2013. Dawn attended the event with her three children and left with a positive experience. It requires a lot of student and faculty time to put on our annual show but we have a sense of fulfillment after responses like this. It is our wish for other organizations to experience this and hope our manuscript can contribute in some small way.

“ I would like to extend a hearty 'thank you' to all individuals involved with the event last night. I noticed an advertisement in the South Bend Tribune the morning of and thought; this sounds like a lot of fun! My children, ages 4, 7, and 9 were truly amazed! My husband and I were impressed that they got such an individualized experience during the first half, and they got to 'help out' with experiments. They were truly amazed with the second half of the presentation as well. All were in agreement that the 'elephant toothpaste' was their favorite, especially when it came out of the pumpkin! The ice cream was delicious as well. Last week my 9 year old son came home from school and said, 'Science is BORING!' and my husband and I were pretty disheartened to hear that. (Apparently they have been learning about mass and grams and such). Well, after the event last night we had a nice discussion on the way home…so we asked him, do you still think science is boring? He said, 'No....I was wrong....Science is pretty EXCITING!' That made our day! ”  – Mrs. Dawn Green


Figure 3. Students dressed as evil scientists for the 2013 Halloween Chemistry Show.

Supporting InformationDetailed list of all demo procedures including references and proper disposal, safety and hazard information for all demos.

Contact E-mail: koshin@saintmarys.edu

Acknowledgments

The author wishes to thank all SMAACS officers and students for their hard work and service, the Department of Chemistry and Physics, and Saint Mary’s College.

REFERENCES

1.   Science Teachers’ Association of Ontario Demonstrations. http://stao.ca/res2/demo2A.php. (accessed Mar 2015).

2.   Mvbiotech. http://mvbiotech.weebly.com/uploads/5/4/2/1/5421669/glow_in_the_dark_ slime.pdf. (accessed Mar 2015).

3.   Steve Spangler Science. http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/lab/experiments/crystal-ball-bubble. (accessed Mar 2015).

4.   MIT Open Courseware. Chemical Demonstrations. hhttp://ocw.mit.edu/high-school/chemistry /demonstrations/videos/. (accessed Mar 2015).

5.   Flinn Scientific, Inc. Elephant Toothpaste Decomposition reaction. https://www.flinnsci.com/ media/620424/91098.pdf. (accessed Mar 2015).

6.   Kurti, N.; and This-Benckhard, H. Chemistry and Physics in the Kitchen. Scientific American. 1994, 270 (4), 66.