Chemistry’s a scream!

A rather macabre experiment involving sweets and babies and screaming could be heard causing a ruckus in the chemistry lab last week…

But fear not, no real babies were harmed – it was just Jelly Babies who met their noisy, sticky end, much to the enjoyment of Year 10 students.

The explosive experiment, performed by science teacher Dr Tariq Khan (it’s quite dangerous!), is designed to show an extreme exothermic chemical reaction between potassium chlorate – a oxidising agent – and sugar.

Here’s the science: Dr Khan drops half a Jelly Baby (a whole one would be too powerful) into molten potassium chlorate. As soon as the potassium chlorate meets with the Jelly Baby, it rapidly oxidises the sugar, causing the ‘baby’ to burst into flames, producing a ‘screaming’ sound as rapidly expanding gases are emitted from the test tube. The Jelly Baby never stands a chance!

Watch them burn here

After the experiment, pupils were asked to explain their observations in terms of the chemistry they understood and then research the science before Dr Khan pieced together the underlying principles of the demonstration.

Dr Khan explains: “This experiment has many scientific ideas associated with it. For example, the production of vast amounts of water vapour rapidly suggests ‘rocket science’ – the propulsion during a rocket lift off. Would our test tube fly across the room if the clamp did not hold it firmly?

“The bright lilac light indicating the presence of potassium ions in the hot mixture – a touch of Northern Lights?

“The extreme exothermic nature of the reaction makes it essential to keep observers at a distance – do not try this at home!”

Dr Khan concludes: “They say teaching is a privilege profession that can ‘switch on’ our young generation. These dangerous but exciting demonstrations can still grasp the attention of even the most video gaming stimulated young minds. Used carefully, the production of curiosity driven scientists will continue at UTC Reading.”

It was a tough day for Jelly Babies at UTC Reading that day, as a hundred or so of them found themselves stuck on sticks, suspended from stands and being used to demonstrate waves in a next-door Physics lesson. They spun, they twisted, and brilliantly showed another group of Year 10 students how different waves can form and be manipulated with external forces.  Poor Jelly Babies.



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