Explosive Science

Dr. Dean Campbell conducts an experiment with chemistry major Keri Martinez '18. (Photo provided)

July 10, 2017

By Matt Hawkins

Fire, explosions and slimy messes draw oohs and ahhs from mesmerized children wherever Bradley’s Chemistry Club Demo Crew travels. The Demo Crew creatively introduces children to science with a variety of hands-on experiments.

Bradley students, guided by chemistry professor Dr. Dean Campbell, have entertained and educated central Illinois youth for nine years. More than 20,000 children and parents have seen Demo Club presentations at schools and the Peoria Riverfront Museum.

“People are there for the flash and bang, but we know how to make sure kids learn something,” Campbell said. “We show science is accessible to students and build their enthusiasm so teachers can build on it.”

Bradley students fill hour-long presentations with age and venue-appropriate experiments. One crowd favorite is popping a nitrogen-filled balloon with a small flame. Others include a racquetball that shatters like glass after a few minutes in liquid nitrogen, and a plastic pumpkin that spews foam from a reaction involving hydrogen peroxide.

Demonstration days often leave Bradley students as excited as children who crowd staging areas after shows. This interaction is a highlight for the college scientists who value their roles as mentors.

“I didn’t have these extra experiences to see and understand science,” said medical laboratory science major Miah Montes, ‘20, of Houston, Texas. “Because I didn’t have that when I was younger, I appreciate opportunities to show children chemistry in the real world.”

Though the flash-bang of high-profile experiments generate audience buzz, Demo Crew teammates appreciate more intimate venues like Peoria Riverfront Museum, where children with siblings, parents and grandparents can participate together in experiments.

Conversations with families enable Bradley students to share their knowledge with children and watch as youth discover passion for science.

“I love seeing excitement on kids’ faces, especially when parents get involved and ask about our projects,” said chemistry major Keri Martinez ‘18, of Homer Glen, Illinois. “If parents see how interesting science is, it will rub off on the kids. That may tap into someone’s hidden potential, and it it may change a child’s life.”

The experience also gave Demo Crew teammates new perspectives on everyday science. Though they’re well-versed in complex principles, some of their presentations put unusual chemical twists on household items, such as using the reaction of milk of magnesia and vinegar to produce a rainbow of colors, and using Alka-Seltzer to pop the lids off film canisters.

“It’s cool to think about familiar things in new ways,” said chemistry graduate student Dannielle Wentzel. “Even though I know a lot about chemistry, I enjoy learning new applications of chemicals we may use at home.”