Tuesday, November 23, 2010


As some of you know, I have scored a very part-time gig with "Mad Science", doing lunch-time and after-school lessons in elementary school making chemistry and physics fun and trying to impart the occasional science fact along the way. Or as I rather more bluntly call it "blowing shit up for Grade 2".

None of your actual explosives of course, but using mucho acetic acid acid and sodium bicarbonate in innovative ways (but nearly always involving a satisfying terminal bang, or at least pop!).

It certainly has it's moments but it's worth it for the "wow" when you do something that seems counterintuitive. So far I've been doing a grab-bag of classes that included magic tricks (illusion), making bouncy balls (polymerisation) and decapitating an egg with a couple of matches and an Erlenmyer to demonstrate the principle of flight!

The first class I did was scary, mainly because the last class I had taught was Undergraduate Research Methods 4002 to 50+ Seniors and here I was with an Erlenmyer, an egg and a couple of matches in front of fifteen P to 2s. Unlike the undergrads who were all too cool for school and kept uniformly schtum for entire 75 minute lectures, the problem here is to keep them quiet long enough to get a word in edgeways.

Yesterday was a bit weird though. Deja vu, in way, although it could more accurately be called deja fait. I was called in last minute to do "Slime" at Armbrae Academy, the guy scheduled to do it couldn't make it. So off I went with a box full of Dixie cups and bottles of borax, 1% PVA solution and school-glue to make a variety of "slimes" from something that felt like artificial mucous all the way to home-made silly putty. So far so good, that wasn't weird.

Of course really what we were doing was making polymers of different percentage monomers and cross-linkers. Sounds familiar? Armbrae is directly across the road from the NRC-IMB, where I spent eight years as a Research Officer where, if I wasn't doing stuff with fish I was making gels by polymerising various concentrations of monomeric acrylamide with various concentrations of cross-linker. Sounds familiar

So here I was again, making polymers on the 1400 block of Oxford Street. Deja fait. If it wasn't for the fact I was now adding paint to the polymerising solution to make funky coloured slime, it could almost have been as if the AC had never happened! Funny how the world turns. Would I say this is a come-down, teaching elementary school kids fun science rather than climbing the pole towards my own Chair? Right now, not sure I would.


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