The Chemistry of Magic

chemistry of magicMove over Merlin, Gandalf, Harry, and Miss Price! It’s time for some science magic! That’s me having the time of my life igniting a hydrogen balloon soaked in aqueous barium chloride. Best. Time. Ever.

Last month, Cotsen collaborated with the Princeton Chemistry Outreach Program to create The Chemistry of Magic, a program that unveiled the science behind seemingly magical chemical reactions. The lecture and demonstrations were the brainchildren of Dr. Kathryn Wagner, who is standing to the right of the GIANT GREEN FIREBALL in the image above.

Some of my favorite demonstrations included “Elephant Toothpaste” (a hugely gloppy reaction created by mixing hydrogen peroxide, soap and potassium iodide solution), the “Ring of Fire” (igniting isopropyl rubbing alcohol within a water cooler bottle to produce a slow, licking blue flame), and the “Methane Mamba” (which basically involved holding a column of methane infused soap bubbles in our hand, placing a match in the middle, and enjoying a raging pillar of flames).

We also demonstrated a “Dry Ice Rainbow,” invisible ink, color change experiments, a Tesla coil, a blind spot optical illusion, homemade glow stick solution, liquid nitrogen fog, and a “Genie in a Bottle” (a reaction of hydrogen peroxide and manganese dioxide powder in a 2-liter soda bottle…the result being 8 feet of writhing steam).

Could you host such a program? Sure! There were a couple of high school science teachers in attendance. You might have one near your institution or library who would be willing to work some science magic. You can also talk with your local science center, university, or college to see if they might be interested a collaboration.

But don’t, however, try this at home. We were in a large chemistry lecture hall with proper ventilation, safety equipment, and under Dr. Wagner’s watchful eye. Don’t try this at home folks! Really.

So the next time a character in a book summons a fireball (Incendio!), we hope that readers will pause and reflect on the real fireball they saw at this program, and consider the awesome science that made it possible.

Our 50th Post!

our 50th postWow, that was fast. Cue the band and ready the confetti cannon. It’s our 50th post!

It seems only yesterday that I launched this blog and became a first-time blogger. Thank you for your interest and support, especially the subscribers who have joined me along the way, and the folks who have sent in questions, comments, and suggestions.

Now that there’s a good stock of posts to explore, this seems as good a time as ever to announce my new blogging schedule. Moving forward, I’ll be posting one story time project a week (I’ll aim for Tuesday mornings), with at least 2 posts from other categories per month. We’ll see how it goes!

I’d love to hear from you. What parts of this blog do you like? The story time projects? The art supply recommendations? What would you like to see more of? Are there any new directions you’d like me to take? Is there a book you’d like to see featured? A craft project you’d like me to develop? The goal of Pop Goes the Page is to be a creative resource for librarians, teachers, museum educators, parents, and children…so how can I serve you best?

E-mail me! danas@princeton.edu

One tantalizing glimpse into the future…I’m planning a contest to celebrate our first birthday in August, and the prize is plenty o’ goodies for your art cabinet. So stay tuned!

A Real Page-Turner

rube goldberg machineThis machine really DID turn a page – after automatically cranking a half-dozen ping-pong balls up two towers and dropping them randomly through a number of pathways until one ball finally hit a mechanism that turned…a single page. Then the process started all over again!

The machine was built by Princeton University Engineering students Sarah Tang and Tanner DeVoe. It was built entirely of K’Nex, was over 7 feet tall, and it took 45 hours to complete. Not to mention zillions of test runs!

The “Page-Turner” was the centerpiece of a Rube Goldberg program at our library. Rube Goldberg was an American cartoonist famous for illustrating crazy, intricate machines meant to make life “easier.”

In addition to the machine, we had student group Princeton Engineering Education for Kids constructing simple (and not so simple) LEGO machines with kids, an extensive marble maze set for younger kids to build and test, a video loop of OK Go’s music video This Too Shall Pass, and student artist Kemy Lin inspiring kids to draw their own machines using this Rube Goldberg template.

Here’s a way cute example of “How to Catch a Butterfly” by a budding engineer:

kid's machine