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


Undergraduate of the Quarter - Fall 2012
Undergraduate of the Quarter – Fall 2012

Monica Best has been selected as an undergrad chem major of the quarter for Fall 2012.  Monica grew up in Portland, OR and attended La Salle High School. Her junior and senior-year chemistry courses in high school solidified her interest in Chemistry.  When she visited OSU, she was impressed with the Chemistry Department and specifically credits Chris Pastorek with telling her all the great things going on here.  She is in her junior year right now – working in Adjunct Chemistry faculty member Jennifer Field’s laboratory.  She is unsure if she plans to attend graduate school, but hopes to stay in Oregon (or the Northwest) after she graduates. She is a fan of the TV crime dramas such as NCIS (particularly the lab tech Abby Sciuto) which has inspired her interest in the forensic science-chemistry option (with a toxicology minor).  She has enjoyed participating in the Chemistry Club within the Department – particularly the laid back feel and the expectation that the students do the work.  Her favorite courses so far have been Experimental Chemistry with Emile Firpo and John Loeser where she tells us that the student gets to be the “brain of it” – deciding what they are going to do.  She is taking Physical Chemistry this term and really has enjoyed Professor Glenn Evans’ passion and enthusiasm in the classroom. Outside of chemistry, she likes going to OSU football games, swimming and waterskiing in the summer time and crafting ”everything” from picture frames to scrapbooks.  She also recently joined the OSU Flying Club to learn how to fly.  It is talented and diverse students like Monica that help to make the OSU Chemistry program so strong!

Undergraduate of the Quarter - Fall 2013
Undergraduate of the Quarter – Fall 2013

Josh Holmes has been selected as an undergrad chem major of the quarter for Fall 2012.  Josh was born in Weymouth, Massachusetts , but grew up in Wilton, New Hampshire.  Josh took a non-traditional path to OSU.  While excelling in math throughout high school, he was unsure what career path to take.  Consequently, he decided to work in the construction industry after graduating from high school in 2002. During that time, he became interested in snow skiing and began working as a ski lift operator. His interest in skiing ultimately brought him to the west coast (California) were he met his wife.  In 2008, his wife enrolled in graduate school at OSU in geology.  Josh took the opportunity to re-engage with his education and starting taking classes at LBCC in 2009.  Within a year, he had matriculated to OSU where he has excelled ever sense.  He enjoyed taking math classes at OSU, but it was his General Chemistry course with Dr. Phil Watson that really caught his attention – commenting that he was “blown away by it.” His interest in the fundamental aspects of chemistry drove him to work for emeritus Professor Ken Hedberg because he “wants to known deep down inside what is happening” in chemistry.  Josh has enjoyed the personal attention and friendly attitude that OSU offers – providing easy access to faculty.  Both of those attributes he associates with the Experimental Chemistry courses run by Emile Firpo, John Loeser and Chris Pastorek.     He is unsure exactly what he wants to do after graduation, but he feels that he would like to teach in some capacity.  Josh still likes to snow ski and is an accomplished musician – playing guitar in the band called the Psych Country Revue (rock and roll with a country twist).  Our Department is lucky to have wonderful students like Josh who will surely inspire the next generation of chemists through their passion and enthusiasm about science!