Sunday, 6 November 2011
Manchester Science Festival 2011:Day 2
Tuesday. Today I did the afternoon and evening sessions. I spent a lovely chemistry filled afternoon in the Power Hall at MOSI. I helped a lovely young scientist by the name of Declan who had come up from the University of Bristol. He had a beautiful molymod with him of crystal violet lactone but more on that later. First of all he was to do a demo outside which illustrates the different properties fuels have and why chemists look at this when making fuels for different applications. As he was setting this up my job was to try and encourage people to come along and to make sure they stood well back. It was easy to entice people, in fact no effort at all. I think the large safety screen might have something to do with it as this clearly indicates the possibility of explosives :) When ready he mixed some sodium carbide with water and lit it. It burned with a yellow flame leaving soot i.e carbon behind. I know this is not a hot flame! Next we have some methanol in a large plastic container which burn't with a blue flame. It was quite difficult to see but it was there. This is a hot flame. There was also a large hot chocolate tin which we watched intently and shot up in the air with a bang but I can't recall what gas that was. Finally he had 2 small bottles of liquid methane but they failed to ignite after being filled in bristol and travelling to Manchester. The crowd were thrilled, it was awesome. Once indoors, he had 2 amazing desktop demo's to show us. One was a small sealed tube of a supercritical fluid* Sulfur hexafluoride. He heated it in hot water, it vaporised and then condensed back into a liquid. Nothing great about that you maybe thinking but then he produced another sealed tube of the same size which had more of this stuff inside of it. After heating it produced a quite visible mist. He described this as beautiful. Next was my favourite demo, the above mentioned lactone which is a derivative of the indicator crystal violet lactone. He blew purple bubbles with it which wowed the kids, and was very pretty and deliberately got some of it on himself and the table.When asked of course the kids said yes the problem is it stains. Then an amazing thing happened. He rubbed his skin and the table with his index finger and the colour disappeared, not a trace left! He explained that it is of course still there and we must remember this as it is very toxic. He then explained using the molymod that the just one tweek/movement within the structure causes this to happen. He refered to this as the 'mousetrap' in which the lactone part of the molecule readily moves one of the 3 rings out of alignment. The molecule wants this to happen and it does so when friction is applied to the structure. Like rubbing it for instance. It is no longer absorbing visible light but absorbs in the UV region. So we humans can no longer see it. There are as yet no applications for this but Declan said that it may have possible uses in security. For detecting fingerprints on stolen paper money I would guess. At 3pm the outdoor demo near the train tracks was repeated but alas still no joy with the methane in a bottle. Then the indoor demos were repeated. Thanks for a funtime Declan, I did learn something. Then I had my break. I was very thirsty and hungry at this point. The evening event I was sent to with another volunteer (who was lovely but I can't recall her name :() took place at the Whitworth Art Gallery. I was very happy about this as it is on my way home. We were packed off with a lunch bag and had a fun evening sitting at a desk booking people in. There were 2 speakers though we only stayed for the first one who was a scientist talking about all things biology. I remember her saying that we are all amazing. I like this, we are unique too. She had a gift for us all, a box was passed around for us all to select a colourful butterfly made from acetate. She spoke of and showed us a DNA installation she had installed somewhere. There was a fun installation still open in the gallery, 2 screens made of silk and we could see ourselves on it. Of course we look strange. A most enjoyable day I went home happy.