Winter Wonderland event amazes young crowd with the magic of chemistry



Sewanee students presenting during Winter Wonderland event. Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20).


Alicia Wikner
Executive Staff


In early February, the Chemistry Club’s twelfth annual demonstration took place in Woods, hoping to encourage people to develop an interest in chemistry with an array of members dressed in costumes ranging from winter princesses to penguins performing chemistry experiments for an enthusiastic crowd of children.

The Chemistry Club is led by Supervisor and Professor Bethel Seballos. Usually, the event is held on Halloween, but this time the club decided on a new theme, “Winter Wonderland,” to change things up and allow for some for more preparation time. They began preparing in November and December to choose which experiments to demonstrate and who to work with for partners, with the actual event taking place on February 8.

Participant Máté Szurop (C’21) commented on the change: “This year was unprecedented, because the Winter Wonderland theme gave more freedom to every performer [when it came to] making up a story and the costumes, but because of this, it also required a bit more work.”

Szurop added, “The most demanding part were the two weeks before the event, when everyone had to rehearse individually to make sure that the experiments work. During the last week, we had two big rehearsals with costumes and we also decorated the auditorium. During these rehearsals, basically you should practice your script and perform the demo continuously, developing it to become the safest and easiest to perform.”


Children watching the Winter Wonderland experiments. Photo by Matt Hembree (C’20).


Gathered in Blackman Auditorium at 6 p.m., the event kicked off with the appearance of a giant snowman –– who came back on stage several times throughout the night –– chasing a lone hiker. The children were laughing along with the play as the hiker managed to escape and the confused snowman left the scene temporarily, only to run into the hiker’s friends later on.

The abominable snowman wouldn’t be calmed by talking, but chemistry seemed to get him in a better mood, as he could be heard shouting “magic, magic!”

After a period, the hiker-actors, one of whom was Mohammad Ahsanul Kabir (C’19), managed to fit an egg through a bottleneck by lighting matches and placing them inside of the bottle, which makes the air less dense by energizing the air particles trapped inside. The molecules outside of the bottle are cool, with higher density, which pushes the egg into the bottle.

Shouting mixed compliments (“I don’t think this will work!” and “Try again!”), the crowd was supportive throughout the ordeal, and the actors handled the first two failures without a sweat, managing to keep all of the crowd entertained despite the matches going out too quickly in an excellent display of professionalism.

At one point in the show, the overhead lights went out and the room was lit by strings of fairy lights so that the crowd could see the fire as two women sprayed liquid onto a lit Bunsen burner, which caused the flames to flare up, with the last two rounds seeing the flame colored green.

The liquid was most likely Cupric Sulfate (or Copper Sulfate) which burns green due to electrons releasing energy which corresponds to wavelengths of light (colors), the same technique used to create fireworks.

When it was time for a snowman with a carrot nose and a Christmas tree girl, they arrived dressed appropriately and displayed what they called a “silver mirror experiment,” which adds Silver Nitrate to Ammonium Hydroxide to turn the inside of the flask a silver color. As help they had a volunteer, a girl in red who was a little too entranced with the fire but was guided away by the Christmas tree to help decorate her with a handful of pre-made silver flasks.

Member Sarah Board (C’19) mentioned that her favorite part was seeing the children’s reactions. “At one point during our demo, my partner and I asked for volunteers. Several kids came running and they were so excited to see our experiment up close. They were amazed by the chemistry –– it was really neat to watch!”

Anyone interested in subscribing to the Chemistry Club newsletter or being part of the club can contact Seballos or Vice President Philip Berger (C’19).