When Associate Professor Jeff Manthorpe joined Carleton’s Department of Chemistry in 2006, he brought forward the idea of a community outreach show to his colleagues. They were extremely supportive from the very beginning, offering to share any extra materials they had on hand and their ideas about potential show demonstrations. Thus, the Chemistry Magic Show was born.
At that time, the department hadn’t hosted a large, open-house event with any regularity for many years. However, there had been a similar initiative at Carleton that started in the 1960’s; Don Wiles, now Professor Emeritus in the department, had done some outreach shows under the title ‘Chemistry is pHun.’
“Don actually became a really great resource for ideas,” says Manthorpe. “It’s been neat to see how the show brought together the different generations of faculty within the department. It’s definitely been a unifying thing.”
Over a Decade of Growth
At its core, the Chemistry Magic Show aims to provide a visible platform for the scientific discipline. “Chemistry is not necessarily the most accessible science. It falls into a middle ground,” explains Manthorpe. “We wanted to change that—we wanted to show the public how chemistry connects to their everyday lives, and how it impacts them.”
The show has undergone many changes over the course of more than ten years. With a growing audience, the organizers had to adapt to accommodate the demand: they increased the number of performances per day from two to three, they relocated the show to a larger auditorium in Richcraft Hall, they enlisted a TV camera crew to broadcast the show in overflow rooms and on local television and they increased the number of Chemistry Magic Show events held each year. In turn, a large group of enthusiastic and dedicated chemists and student volunteers have become a crucial part of the show.
In an effort to promote hands-on participation, activity rooms were added to the show, allowing kids to work with student volunteers on actual demonstrations—like making ice cream with liquid nitrogen.
“It’s a great way for students to take the knowledge that they’ve acquired [at Carleton] and learn to explain the fundamental scientific principles behind what they’re showing somebody, or what somebody is doing with their own hands,” says Manthorpe.