Smile Politely

It’s not magic; it’s science

The annual Holiday Magic Chemistry Demonstration Show was held this past week at the Noyes Laboratory, located on the northeast end of the U of I quad. Three presentations were held, culminating with the final show this past Sunday at 2 p.m. Family friendly, free of charge, and open to the public, the Chemistry Department faculty played to a full auditorium, exciting the crowd with over 60 minutes of scientific magic.

“The Holiday Magic Chemistry Demonstration Show is an annual event hosted by the Chemistry Department at the University of Illinois,” said Lecturer Jordan Axelson (she’s the one donning the Santa hat in the photos). “The show provides a way for the Department to invite the greater Champaign-Urbana into the laboratory and to show how fun and and exciting science can be.”

The show moves at a rapid pace, never pausing long enough to lose the interest or attention of the audience. “We have lamps of burning ice, candy cane rockets, party games, and even an elf,” said Axelson. “We have something for everyone: card tricks, explosions, flaming snowballs, and lots and lots of liquid nitrogen.” Anyone that’s seen Terminator 2 knows what that stuff is capable of!

While Axelson agrees that one can certainly learn science from reading a book, she is convinced that nothing compares to seeing it in action. “Demonstrations make learning more interesting and exciting by allowing you to see science in action,” she said. “Fireballs and rockets are spectacular and energize the audience, but I think that the best demos pose a question and involve an unexpected result.”

“One of my favorite demos investigates how Santa slips down a chimney on Christmas Eve,” said Axelson. “Santa is represented by an egg and the chimney by an old fashioned milk bottle.”

While the science is certainly the focus of the show, the best part for Axelson is the interaction with the audience. “I’ve seen all of these demos multiple times, and I’m still delighted when I watch them,” she said. “It’s wonderful when everyone in the room, old and young, scientist and non-scientist, can laugh and exclaim and enjoy a little holiday themed science together.”

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