Getting to Know Dean Campbell and his Favorite Demo!

Dean Campbell holding a bottle

Dean Campbell became a Lead Contributor for ChemEd X in 2021. With the hope of helping readers get to know him better, we asked Dean a series of questions. Check out his responses including a video showing his favorite demonstration. 


Tell us about yourself.

I joined the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Bradley University in 1998. My primary teaching areas include general, inorganic, materials, and environmental chemistry. I believe that everybody can benefit from learning chemistry. Prior to coming to Bradley University, I graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay with a B.S. in chemistry, where I worked with Drs. Jack Norman and Nancy Sell. I then earned my M.S. and Ph.D. in chemistry at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, working for Dr. Chad Mirkin, and enjoyed postdoctoral research at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, working for Dr. Art Ellis. I have done sabbatical research projects with University of Washington (Seattle), the University of Texas – Austin, and at Bradley University. I served as the faculty advisor of the Chemistry Club for nearly two decades. I still serve as the director of the Chemistry Club Demo Crew, which I founded in 2007 to involve students in science outreach. We have reached out to 36,000 participants in 370 events so far. In 2014, I was awarded the Illinois Heartland Local Section of the American Chemical Society 2013 Chemist of the Year and the Illinois Heartland Local Section of the American Chemical Society 2014 Outreach Volunteer of the Year.

My research interests include two intertwined areas: materials chemistry and chemistry education. In materials chemistry, I am involved in the synthesis and characterization of a variety of microscale and nanoscale structures with at least one dimension less than 1000 nanometers in size. These small structures can have characteristics (e.g. optical and catalytic properties) that distinguish them from both individual molecules and extended solid structures. Nanostructures such as colloidal gold and palladium particles are synthesized by a variety of wet chemical methods, often within a polymeric support to improve their ease of use and recyclability, and then their structure and chemical reactivity are characterized by techniques such as ultraviolet/visible absorption spectroscopy, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and electron microscopy. Areas of work in chemistry education involve the development of new demonstrations and activities for use in a classroom or educational laboratory setting. Where possible, the demonstrations are designed to be as simple and cost-effective as possible. Projects have often included: modeling chemical structures and properties with LEGO brick-based and paper-based structures, easily observable demonstrations of nanoscale materials and properties, and demonstrations of various aspects of environmental chemistry. I have been the co-author on about 50 peer reviewed publications and 75 research presentations at off-campus venues.

I spend a bit of my free time with family activities. My hobbies include rock and fossil collecting and hiking and I assist in religious education at St. Anthony's Church in Bartonville, IL.


Describe a teaching strategy that works well for you and your students.

One teaching strategy that I employ is to try to do a little show-and-tell by bringing a demonstration, or at least a prop, to every class.* Demonstrations have a long, rich history in chemistry. The demos do not have to be earthshakingly spectacular or very long. As much as possible, they should serve to illustrate the material being covered in the course. The demos also serve to provide a bit of a change of pace or change of learning style in the classroom to help diversify how the students learn. 

*Check out Dean's ChemEd X blog post: A Demo A Day: Demonstrations and Props Used in My General Chemistry Class


Describe a chemical demonstration that excites you as much as it excites your students.

Slow Antacid

Video 1: Slow Antacid, Chem Demos YouTube Channel, accessed 5/26/2022.


I would have to say that one of my favorite chemical demonstrations is the acidification of milk of magnesia antacid with various acids in the presence of universal indicator (see Video 1). I did not create that demo, but wish I had! It is so visually interesting and yet loaded with chemical meaning.

Take an empty half-liter plastic beverage bottle and add ~1 cm of milk of magnesia (suspended magnesium hydroxide), noting that it is white and milky, Image 1 above. Add a little bit of universal indicator and the antacid suspension turns purple, indicating a basic mixture, Image 2. Add a bit of vinegar and swirl and the mixture briefly turns orange or red, indicating an acidic mixture, Image 3. Continue swirling and the mixture reverts to purple or blue, Image 4. The audience can get a real kick out of it if you act surprised that it happened. Repeat the color cycling with another shot of vinegar and explain what is going on as appropriate for the audience. The changes illustrate LeChatelier’s Principle as the magnesium hydroxide antacid suspension slowly dissolves to neutralize the acetic acid and return the mixture to basic conditions, but the reaction kinetics are sufficiently slow as to allow the observation of the changes over the timescale of several seconds. Finally, add a bit of 3 M hydrochloric acid to drive the system past the equilibrium and turn the mixture permanently red, acidic, and transparent, Image 5.


I use this demonstration at many outreach events and in both General Chemistry 1 and 2 courses, demonstrating at the “oooh” and “aaaah” level, the descriptive acid and base reaction level, and even at the level of calculating magnesium hydroxide solubilities at various pH levels. 


Describe the contribution to ChemEd X that you are most proud of. 

The contribution to ChemEd X that I am most proud of took place before I even became a regular contributor. In March, 2020, right about the time the pandemic shut the Bradley University campus down, Tom Kuntzleman and a couple of my students and I collaborated on a project that eventually became the post “Chemical Illustrations of Flattening the Curve”. Tom contributed heavily to and shepherded me through that submission. (Thanks Tom!) I’m proud of that one because with all of the chaos and fear of the pandemic at that time, we fought back using one of the best ways we could contribute, with education using demos. There is a huge treasure trove of goodies on the ChemEd X site, it is definitely worth exploring.

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