More chemistry…and bangs!

By Ann Fenech, on 12 June 2010

Chemistry: A Volatile History wasn’t the only demonstration-based chemistry show I saw today. In fact, the first show I saw this morning was The Bigger Bang with Dr Hal and his team.

This show was definitely impressive, with the bangs getting bigger and bigger as the show progressed. We learnt about gases of different densities, luminescence, and about how things burn…and that we ’shouldn’t try this at home’. There was light flashes, boats floating, and I repeat: big bangs.

However, I think there was two things that I was slightly concerned with during this event. First of all, the presenter at certain intervals outlined what were the learning outcomes of the just-performed demonstration. Hearing those words made me feel like I am back on the school bench and I am there to ‘learn something’ rather than there to enjoy the event and subtly learn about what I am observing, which is what I think science communication at such a festival, and especially if aimed at kids, should be about.

Another thing I observed was the use of chemicals including sulfur hexafluoride were used. This chemical has been identified as one of the most potent greenhouse gases out there. I agree that the quantities used were not big, but couldn’t another chemical be used instead?

Other than these two quibbles, the show was highly entertaining. The presenters kept the show flowing quite easily and fluidly. I am sure everyone there came out in awe of chemistry, but confident that they can manage it.

2 Responses to “More chemistry…and bangs!”

  1. Dr Hal Sosabowski wrote on 16 June 2010:

    Thank you for your comments. You are not the first person to make the observation about the harmful effects of SF6. We try to balance the benefit to society of educating using surprise and delight against the negative effect to the environment.

    Having said that, in light of the comments we have received we have designed a system which should allow us to compress and recover 85% of the SF6 that we use. We hope this is acceptable.

    Lastly, its hexaflUOride and not hexaflOUride….


  2. annfenech wrote on 16 June 2010:

    Hello Dr Hal

    Thank you for your reply. The fact that you have a system in place to recover quite a good chunk of the little you already use sounds very good! Maybe even worth mentioning in the presentation?
    And oops! My chemistry teachers won’t be very happy with my mistake! I have editted now to correct it.