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They gathered for magic at JCC


Magic — the art of producing marvelous effects — was on display Friday at Jefferson Community College, though it wasn’t spells, charms or rituals that seemed to make snakes, snow and fire appear out of thin air.

“For most people, it seems like magic. They don’t understand the chemistry,” said Venkat Chebolu, professor of chemistry and emcee of the Magic of Chemistry Show.

The event, the finale of JCC’s 26th annual National Chemistry Week, was well attended, with students lining the walls of a laboratory classroom in the Samuel Guthrie Building.

College President Carole A. McCoy and Vice President for Academic Affairs Thomas J. Finch kicked off the show by igniting two hydrogen-filled balloons, creating tight fireballs that rolled to the ceiling in twin bursts of light.

Following that fiery introduction, 15 students came to the front of the classroom one by one to show off their chemistry prowess, all to the deadpan commentary of Mr. Chebolu.

One by one, liquids changed colors, water turned into silver, volcanoes sprouted from glasses and multiple lids flew off multiple containers while foam sprayed from flasks.

Lab supervisor William L. McMahon put a liquid-nitrogen-frozen saltine cracker in his mouth, which lent him the appearance of a fire-breathing dragon when he exhaled through his nose.

“You did great, but I don’t think the audience liked it at all,” Mr. Chebolu said, prompting a round of applause.

Jared A. Wilson, a graduate of SUNY Cortland, attended the show for extra credit. He is taking chemistry as a prerequisite for a master’s degree in prosthetics and orthotics. “I thought it was pretty cool,” Mr. Wilson said. “There were a lot of reactions I didn’t expect to see.”

Lauren E. Olmstead, a sophomore nursing student at JCC, agreed. “I thought it was pretty interesting,” she said. “I liked the explosions.”

Mr. Chebolu said he started the show 20 years ago as a way to get students interested in chemistry.

At first, it was just a one-man show, with Mr. Chebolu doing all the experiments and speaking.

But then he started to get students involved, which he said helps give them confidence in their public speaking abilities. “They walk taller knowing they can get in front of the crowd,” he said.

Paree V. Evans was one of the JCC students who participated in the show. She has three classes left before she can apply to SUNY Upstate Medical University for a dual Ph.D., M.D. program.

Her experiment displayed the color-changing properties of cobalt chloride, which can appear blue or red depending on its environment.

Mrs. Evans said she enjoyed the show, even as a student.

“It’s mandatory for organic chemistry students, but it’s still fun, though,” she said.

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