Review: Chemistry Conference

Over 1,000 pupils from Marlborough College and other local schools were invited by Dr Garry Doyle, Head of Chemistry, to take part in the Marlborough College Chemistry Conference on Tuesday 19th November 2013. 

The speakers, John Emsley, Science Writer in Residence for the Department of Chemistry at Cambridge University, Tim Harrison, School Teacher Fellow at the School of Chemistry at Bristol University and Hal Sosabowski, Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Brighton University, each gave two lectures.

John Emsley is one of the most distinguished science writers. His books include The Shocking History of Phosphorus and the Consumers Good Chemical Guide. He did two talks, each related to recent books, Molecules of Murder and Vanity, Vitality and Virility.

Tim Harrison started his career as a chemistry teacher in London and engaged his audiences with some spectacular chemical demonstrations involving dry ice, liquid nitrogen, hydrogen peroxide and potassium chlorate. His fact-filled, child-friendly patter was perfectly suited to his audience of mainly Shell and Remove pupils.

Hal Sosabowski got his first big break when ITV asked him to appear on their Ministry of Mayhem show in 2004. Since then he has been taking his unique combination of comedy and chemistry around the world. In fact on the morning of the Chemistry Conference he had just flown in from the Abu Dhabi Science Festival.

The Mem Hall audience was treated to some very special and very large scale chemical demonstrations; the barking dog demonstration in a six foot test tube, an aluminium boat floating on a sea of sulphur hexafluoride, white phosphorus burning in a huge flask of oxygen and the surprisingly spectacular exploding coke bottle. In this latter demonstration, hot water was poured into a two-litre coke bottle full of dry ice and the lid screwed on! A very big bang followed about ten seconds later.

Instead of being conducted in a scholarly atmosphere of hushed silence, Dr Hal and his assistant Dr David Campbell used an upbeat mixture of music, slapstick and comedy to engage their audience. There was even a duet  Elvis tribute in which Dr Campbell was singing while breathing helium (it makes your voice go really high) and Hal was singing while breathing sulphur hexafluoride (which makes your voice go low). Professor Sosabowski’s spectacular Fistful of Test Tubes show proved beyond doubt that chemistry can be surreal, entertaining and fun.


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