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JCC chemistry students make science look like magic

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A balloon is transformed into a poof of fire with the help of a single candle. A beaker of bleach becomes a glow-in-the-dark fountain.

It’s not magic. It’s chemistry.

Jefferson Community College celebrated National Chemistry Week’s 25th year with its annual Magic of Chemistry Show on Friday.

“It’s to show people what chemistry can do,” said chemistry professor Venkat Chebolu. “It gets people to see some of the fun elements in chemistry. People come in and say, ‘Wow!’”

The 45-minute show wrapped up an entire week of visual demonstrations under the theme “Nanotechnology: The Smallest BIG idea in Science,” according to a college news release.

During the show in the Samuel Guthrie Building, nearly 20 organic chemistry students created explosions, color changes, nearly never-ending amounts of foam and “Hollywood snow.”

One student made a bucket of dry, non-melting snow by adding polyvinyl acrylate to water. When he dumped out the white, fluffy substance onto a tray, the audience gasped.

“I have this idea that I’m going to sell it to the Dry Hill (Ski Area) owner here and make millions of dollars,” Mr. Chebolu said.

College President Carole A. McCoy and Vice President for Academic Affairs Thomas J. Finch also joined in on the fun. Donning safety goggles, the two lit politically themed hydrogen-filled balloons with a candle, causing them to burst into flame in midair.

“Usually, we repeat many of our projects every year, but we try to come up with new projects, too,” Mr. Chebolu said.

During the show, safety precautions are taken, such as buckets of water strategically placed throughout the room and a fire extinguisher nearby.

The fire alarm never went off, despite several very smoky experiments.

“We make sure to turn the fire alarms off,” Mr. Chebolu said. “Sometimes things do go wrong.”

At Friday’s event, the only experiment to go awry was a sparkler that remained lit too long and had to be dropped into water.

Mr. Chebolu recalled a student overzealously adding an ingredient 10 years ago, creating a powerful chemical reaction when it was lit with fire.

“We had fire shooting from the table right here to the ceiling,” he said.

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