Dean Campbell's blog

Surprising Shrinking Styrofoam Stick: Using the Gas Laws to Get a Square Peg into a Round Hole

Polystyrene foam sticks with a square or rectangular profile will not fit into a round target hole (e.g., the opening of a soda bottle) at room temperature. However, they do contract sufficiently in contact with liquid nitrogen to fit into the hole and produce a simple demonstration of Charles’s Law. Many other polymer foams do not shrink under these conditions, but still provide opportunities to discuss and explore their structure and chemistry.

A Visit to Natural Fiber Welding: Demonstrating Green Chemistry in Action

The theme to the 2022 National Chemistry Week, observed October 16-22, is “Fabulous Fibers: The Chemistry of Fabrics”. A visit to Natural Fiber Welding, Inc. in Peoria, IL, revealed how that company is using ionic liquids to solvent weld cellulose fibers together to produce more durable yarn which can then be made into more durable fabric. The production method and “greenness” of the product is discussed, from the cellulose itself to the recycling of the solution used in the welding process. Macroscopic demonstrations of the fiber solvent welding process are also described. 

Finding Flash Rocks

Flash rocks were discussed in a previous post as stones made of quartz that produce light by triboluminescence when struck together. This post provides some description of their origins and tips on how to find them, making connections to some of their properties.

Using My Marbles: Connecting Surface Area and Calorimetry with Temperature Curves and Thermochromic Cups

The importance of surface area can be illustrated by adding spherical solids at known sizes and temperature to other substances at different temperatures and then monitoring the rates of temperature changes of the system over time. Larger spheres (with less surface area per sample) exchanged heat with water more slowly than smaller spheres, and less thermally conductive glass spheres exchanged heat with water more slowly than iron spheres. Additional, more colorful demonstrations are described in which small glass spheres cool thermochromic plastic cups more quickly than larger glass spheres. 

Too Hot to Handle? Hydrogen Reacts with Oxygen on Palladium Foil

The reaction of hydrogen and oxygen gases to form water is well known to be an exothermic reaction. That reaction can occur by first absorbing the hydrogen into palladium metal, and then placing the resulting palladium hydride into contact with oxygen in the air. Infrared and visible light videos were recorded for this process involving palladium foil, and the Green Chemistry and safety aspects of these activities are considered.

Paper Snowflakes to Model Flat Symmetrical Molecules

Flat, symmetrical molecules can be modeled by folding a sheet of paper, cutting patterns into the folded structure, and unfolding to produce the flat paper models. The finished models resemble paper snowflakes, but have a variety of rotational symmetries. Template patterns for several molecules are available for download in the Supporting Information.