Have a chemical Christmas with these chemistry-themed holiday crafts

In our department, you can’t escape science – not even for the holidays.

Have a chemical Christmas at HMNSEvery year during the holiday season, the museum provides pine trees to local non-profits to decorate and spread their organization’s message. Our department is usually given a tree to decorate in a manner that expresses some aspect of the museum.

This year, we have dedicated our tree to chemistry, as we will have a revamped Chemistry Hall in the near future and want to celebrate. And because we know you like science as much as we do, we have compiled all sorts of fun kid- (and adult) friendly chemistry projects that you can do at home. Ours have all been made into ornaments for our tree, but the sky’s the limit!

Check out these links and have your own Chemical Christmas:

Marvelous Marbled Ornaments
Christmas Chromatography
Borax Crystal Ornaments
Amazing Snow Powder
How Does the Periodic Table of Elements Work?

Want to come check out the trees for yourself? Visit the museum from Nov. 30th through the first week of January. Can’t make it? Stay tuned for pictures of all the trees the first week of December!

But in the meantime, enjoy the trees from previous years and this chemist’s version of a holiday classic, “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” John F. Hansen’s version appeared in the St. Louis section of the American Chemical Society in 1978.

‘Twas the night to make crystals, and all through the ‘hood,
Compounds were reacting as I’d hoped that they would.
The hood door I’d closed with the greatest of care,
To keep noxious vapors from fouling the air.

The reflux condenser was hooked to the tap,
And the high vacuum pump had a freshly filled trap.
I patiently waited to finish my task,
While boiling chips merrily danced in the flask.

Then from the pump there arose such a clatter,
That I sprang from my chair to see what was the matter.
Away to the fume hood! Up with the door!
And half of my product foamed out on the floor.

Then what to my watering eyes should appear,
But a viscous black oil which had once been so clear.
I turned the pump off in a terrible rush,
And the oil that sucked back filled the line up with mush.

The ether boiled out of the flask with a splash,
And hitting the mantle, went up with a flash!
My nose turned quite ruddy, my eyebrows went bare,
The blast had singed off nearly half of my hair.

I shut the hood door with a violent wrench,
As acid burned holes in the floor and the bench.
I flushed it with water, and to my dismay,
Found sodium hydride had spilled into the fray.

And then the fire got way out of hand,
I managed to quench it with buckets of sand.
With aqueous base I diluted the crud,
Then shoveled up seven big buckets of mud.

I extracted the slurry again and again
With ether and then with dichloromethane.
Chormatographic techniques were applied
Several times ’til the product was purified.

I finally viewed with a satisfied smile,
One half a gram in a shiny new vial.
I mailed the yield report to my boss,
Ninety percent (allowing for loss).

“Good work,” said the boss in the answering mail,
“Use same condition on a preparative scale.”

Let it insta-snow: Make faux snow grow this holiday season!

In the age of Instagram, instant rice and instant gratification, it can’t come as much of a surprise that there also exists insta-snow.

How does it work? Carolyn Leap knows. Our youth educator facilitates an Outreach Program here at HMNS called Science on Stage, and my favorite topic has to be Cool Chemistry. I love watching her stick things in liquid nitrogen, set things on fire that never burn and make a cup of water disappear in an instant. Carolyn is magical.

Okay, she isn’t really magical. Everything she does is totally explainable with science, but seeing kids watch these demonstrations for the first time is super fun. They are totally amazed!

One of the topics she focuses on in a Cool Chemistry program is polymers. My favorite polymer demonstration has to be instant snow. If you’ve never seen it done, it is super fun! But what is it?  And more importantly, where can you get some? First things first, my friends…

Learn how instant snow works and get your own at the Museum Store!I asked Carolyn to explain exactly how instant snow works the other day, and here is what she had to say:

“Whether it’s called ‘Amazing Snow Powder®,’ ‘Insta-Snow®,’ ‘SnoWOW®,’ ‘Magic Snow®’ or anything else, any faux snow that grows when you add water works the same way. Instant snow powder is made of some very large molecules (polymers) composed of repeating units that are hydrophilic, or ‘water-loving.’ Most synthetic polymers are not hydrophilic; plastic soda bottles, PTFE (Teflon®) coatings, and PVC pipe, for example, are not.”

“As you add water, the powder acts like a bunch of very tiny but very good sponges. When you look at a regular kitchen sponge, you can see the pores that the water fills in; with instant snow powder, the places the water occupies are way too tiny to see, but they’re still there. Fake snow’s chemical name is ‘sodium polyacrylate,’ but the absorbent polymer in disposable diapers goes by the same name, because they have very similar chemical structure. Most people call instant snow by its simple name for clarity. Depending on who you ask, polymer ‘snow’ was first developed either as a blood absorber for hospitals or as a material to use in indoor snowboard parks in Japan. However it was invented, it’s awesome!”

Want some insta-snow of your own? Visit the HMNS Online Store and pick some up for yourself! These little jars make perfect stocking stuffers, particularly for kids from southern Texas who may have never seen snow before. Want to keep it after the holidays? You can dry it out and store it for the next year, but it takes weeks to months in the Texas humidity.  We tried it one year and finally gave up around spring break!