X Close

Events

Home

UCL events news and reviews

Menu

Can we teach chemistry with explosions alone?

Oli Usher20 February 2015

Professor Andrea Sella (UCL Chemistry)

Professor Andrea Sella (UCL Chemistry)

Explosions, eruptions and exothermic reactions are the backbone of chemistry demonstrations. Generations of kids have been wowed by them.

But do they really learn much from it?

Professor Andrea Sella (UCL Chemistry) is a major purveyor of these explosions at science festivals and shows around the country. (He is also the only person I know who, when asked to sign off a risk assessment form full of apparently irresponsible pyrotechnics, was able to truthfully reply: “I make 7 foot fire tornadoes all the time, I’m sure it’s fine.”)

Having won the Royal Society Michael Faraday Prize for his explosion-based science outreach, Sella used the opportunity of his celebratory public lecture (‘Is chemistry really so difficult?’, 9 February) to make a plea for… well, not the complete elimination of explosions from public lectures, but more thoughtful and judicious use of them.

But first: one last opportunity to “blow sh*t up”, in this case, a can of hydrogen. Cue laughter and applause.

Back on track. For centuries, chemists have tried to impress people by blowing things up, he says, but this gives a false impression of what chemistry is really about. It suggests that it’s exciting, and that it’s dangerous. It wows the crowds, but from a scientific perspective it’s not actually all that interesting. Flashes and bangs are chemistry porn, and they undermine recognition of modern chemistry as one of the towering intellectual achievements of our time.

(more…)

Medical imaging with light, sound and sugar (!) at the Royal Summer Science Exhibition

Thomas A Roberts9 July 2014

Have you ever broken a bone and been for an MRI scan? Perhaps your dentist has interrogated your fillings with an14520757366_9435d47805 x-ray of your jaw. Or maybe you’ve seen a baby curled in its mother’s womb on an ultrasound machine. Medical imaging has revolutionised our lives to the point where we can see inside our bodies with incredible clarity. But now a new wave of imaging techniques is coming.

Now, we can use light to illuminate deep inside our bodies to see individual, microscopic cells dividing. We can use sound to generate exquisitely detailed images of blood vessels. And, we can even use sugar to make tumours within our bodies glow.

At this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, held last week, my colleagues and I from the UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging (CABI) exhibited the next generation of techniques that we are developing in our lab which push the boundaries of what we can see inside the human body. Having conquered the Cheltenham Science Festival, the CABI team showcased  a completely new exhibition.

(more…)