Outreach & Education


The Science of: DIY Nylon Hack

Nylon Polymerization at an Interface
This is a description of how the "Nylon Rope Trick" experiment works.

Polymers are strings of molecules linked through chemical bonds. In this video, we are linking two molecules, hexamethylene diamine and decanedioyl, into a repeating polymeric strand. This polymer is commonly known as Nylon and is a major component in fabrics and food packaging. To make this polymer, Claudia first prepares two solutions each with one of the monomers. The first is made by dissolving hexamethylene diamine in water and the second is prepared by dissolving decandioyl into cyclohexane. When these solutions are layered onto one another, they do not mix. This means that the chemical reaction that produces the Nylon only happens where the two liquids meet. As the formed polymer is drawn off of the surface, more polymer is formed at the exposed interface. This is how Claudia forms long strands of Nylon, just by pulling the polymer off of the surface. Similar approaches can also be used industrially to produce the Nylon polymers that are used in clothing.

The Science of: Exploding Gummy Bears

Oxidation of Organic Matter
Exploding Gummy Bears

Organic matter is made up of carbon-based compounds that are the fundamental component of all life, including sugars, proteins, nucleic acids, and fats. These compounds can be reacted with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and energy, similar to a campfire or transforming food into energy. In this demo, we increase the rate of this oxidation reaction by including a more powerful oxidant than oxygen. Specifically, we melt an oxidizing salt (potassium chlorate) at the start of this video and then add a gummy bear (which is primarily sugar). The rate of the chemical reaction is very rapid, generating significant heat and light.

The Science of: Hydrogen Explosion

Energy Levels in Different Atoms
Light emission from excited atoms

When hydrogen gas (H2) is exposed to a flame, it ignites and generates energy in the form of heat and light. This energy can interact with other elements that we put into the balloon. Specifically, this energy causes an electron (the negatively charged particles that orbit a positively charged nucleus) to be excited into a higher energy state. As these electrons return back to their starting state, they release more energy in the form of light. Because different elements have different electronic states, the color of light produced depends on the element that is present. For instance, in the example video when the flame is red, we can tell that Nick added sodium to the balloon and when the flame is green, we can tell that Nick added copper to the balloon.

The Science of: Gallium Spoon Prank

A Metal with an Unusually Low Melting Point

Metals typically melt at very high temperatures. However, the strength of the bonding and the unusual packing of gallium atoms in its solid lead to gallium melting at unusually low temperatures when compared to other metals. This allows the gallium spoon to melt, even when stirred in warm water.

The Science of: DIY Pencil Hack

Making Graphite from Carbon Dioxide
CO2 to Pencil

Pencil lead is made of graphite, which is a solid form of carbon. In this demonstration, Nick starts with a solid block of carbon dioxide (CO2) that is frozen at very low temperatures. To transform CO2 into solid carbon, the carbon atoms must acquire additional electrons in a process known as reduction. To achieve this, Nick adds elemental magnesium (Mg), which is sufficiently reactive to reduce carbon dioxide into graphite. This process produces energy during the reaction, which leads to the light and heat being generated in the video.