Oregon State chemistry club plays with fire

By McKinley Smith

The Daily Barometer

Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 02:04

With a flash of lights, flames and a bang, the scent of soap fills the air, assaulting the senses.

“There’s a lot of stigma associated with chemistry being, ‘memorize all these numbers and use them,’ [or] ‘draw these hexagons with carbon atoms,’” said Amanda Abbot, a senior in chemistry and member of the Oregon State University chemistry club. “Chemistry club is more about the fun side of things.”

Chemistry club is open to anyone who “likes the fun part of chemistry,” Abbott said.

Club meetings take place every other week in the second floor lab in the Gilbert Hall addition. They begin with group planning and conclude with demonstrations. The club is currently selling beaker-themed glasses and mugs to raise funds, with order forms available in Gilbert 153.

The 24 students met for the club’s most recent meeting on Thursday, and featured many testaments of chemistry’s wonders.

Adam Huntley, a demo coordinator and a senior in chemistry, worked off an online recipe for indestructible bubbles, putting a new spin on a childhood pastime. The corn syrup, water and Dawn dish soap concoction yielded bubbles as large as basketballs.

“We haven’t actually gotten them indestructible yet,” Huntley said. “It’s more like a yo-yo.”

Dry ice, a Halloween staple well known for its smoky quality, took on a new angle, or a curve, during the demonstrations. Ashley Moon, junior in chemistry and demo coordinator, took turns with Huntley to whip up the dry ice, soap and water mixture into a luminous bubble, bulging over the side of the glass bowl before popping in a ring of smoke that swept over the lab bench.

The dry ice bubbles in the water, producing a carbon dioxide gas that is trapped by the thin veneer of soap created by passing a soapy fabric over the brim of the bowl. From there, the gas pushes up against the soap film, forming a large bubble. When the stress gets to be too much, it pops.

“It seems so simple, but so interesting at the same [time],” said Gillian Downey, a freshman in chemistry.

For Downey and Zoe Johnson, a freshman in bioresource research, it was their first chemistry club meeting.

Omran Muslin, a post-baccalaureate student studying biology, described the reaction between two chemicals about to take place under the fume hood.

“We’ll get a big cloud of smoke and you’ll get a little snake that comes out of it, a carbon snake, a black snake,” Muslin said. Muslin led the chemistry club years earlier, but currently aids the club.

Another demonstration added a bit of color to the evening. Different metals combined with methanol burned according to the particular metal they contained, producing an array of colors in the room — darkened to intensify the effect.

“Lithium is a purple-pink, copper is a green color, methanol itself is blue, so it’s just different colors, different variations,” Moon said.

Demonstrations go through the safety committee before being tested by the faculty advisors.

“We kind of tweak [the demonstration] until it works correctly and then we give it to the general population,” said EmileFirpo, one of the faculty advisers. “It’s not fun to have a demo that doesn’t work.”

Firpo has been involved in the club since the mid 1990s.

“We try not to make them explode and catch on fire, but inadvertently stuff a lot of times ends up not exactly lighting on fire but smoking,” Firpo said. “We try to make things colorful and exciting, but not actually light things on fire.”

John Loeser, faculty adviser, took over the Chemistry Club in the late 1980s and since then has procured a room and furniture for the club in Gilbert’s basement, room 22.

McKinley Smith, news reporter


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