Breaking bad publicity in the chemistry lab

December 6th, 2011

Published on, by Marc-André Miserez (from French by Thomas Stephens), Dec 4, 2011.

Flames erupt from an exploding hydrogen balloon. Don’t panic! This is part of Chimiscope, an attempt by Geneva University to attract people to careers in chemistry.  

Why are fireworks blue, green, yellow and red? How on earth can a double-wall coffee mug warm up when shaken? By what miracle are the insides of Christmas baubles covered in silver? This is what Chimiscope aims to explain and demonstrate … //

… Practical examples:

But Chimiscope is not reserved exclusively for young people. In fact it says it’s for anyone aged “seven to 107” and warmly welcomes groups of adults, for example on a company outing.

Whatever the demonstration , the chemists never forget to give practical examples of what’s going on inside the test tubes.

So fuming coloured cocktails demonstrate the ability of elements to absorb a fraction of white light and to reflect only certain wavelengths: blue for copper, green for barium, yellow for sodium and red for strontium – all components of fireworks.

What’s more, one learns how dipping two plates of copper and zinc in a glass of orange juice can provide enough electrical current to power a watch. The principle behind this is the basis of the battery, discovered at the beginning of the 19th century by Alessandro Volta.


At present, Chimiscope presents two shows: on energy and colours. Four more will be added: chemistry and the environment, chemistry in everyday life, the chemistry of life and chemistry and chirality, which deals with asymmetric molecules and can explain why a molecule will smell of lemon if turned one way but orange if turned another.

Geneva University is expecting Chimiscope to attract an average of 4,000 people a year.

It is supported by the Geneva Industry Association of Life Sciences and aims to show all the possibilities of a discipline which is responsible for finding, in the words of Didier Perret, “solutions to several problems in today’s world, in the areas of health, energy, materials and the environment”. (full text).

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