Aside from its depiction in the hit series Breaking Bad, chemistry has long gotten a bad rap as the least sexy of the sciences. A new digital media project aims to change all that, starting with a series of eerily alluring videos that capture what happens when two chemical substances combine.
The scientists behind the project, which they have aptly named Beautiful Chemistry, used a special camera to zoom in on some of the most common chemical reactions — and provide a new perspective on what’s really going on inside those beakers.
Say, for example, a researcher were to run a typical precipitation reaction — a run-of-the-mill test typically used to uncover a hidden element in a solution. Here’s what she’d normally see in her test tube: A clear solution would turn cloudy when a few drops of another solution were added.
So, Chinese researchers thought, what would happen if someone were to take that everyday reaction and run it outside of a test tube, with a camera lens that could zoom in on all the action taking place at a super small scale?
That’s precisely what they did, and the results are stunning.
Here’s what happened when the researchers put a bit of iron chloride, a compound lab researchers often use to jumpstart other reactions, in a solution of corrosive sodium metasilicate.
The next time you boil an egg, think of this video. It’s the surface of an egg surrounded by tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide. Instead of boiling water, the scientists popped an egg in some hydrochloric acid, a substance used frequently in the lab to adjust the pH of a solution. The acid is shown here reacting with the calcium carbonate in the egg shell.
It’s not just falling snow that shapes compounds into beautiful, delicate crystals. When the researchers dropped zinc — a brittle, abundant metal found in Earth’s crust — into a solution of corrosive silver nitrate, delicate flakes of zinc nitrate began to take shape.
Colour is all about chemistry. Tiny pigment molecules give plants and flowers the vibrant reds, purples, blues, and yellows we see. Those same molecules can transform when they interact with an acid or a base, sometimes shifting into other, very different colours. The researchers put a piece of purple cabbage in a dish of the acidic compound sodium hydroxide and watched its purple flesh give way to a yellowish covering.
Here’s what they captured after recording corrosive sodium metasilicate reacting with deep blue cobolt chloride.
“If our effects could get more kids and students interested in chemistry and change people’s negative opinion towards chemistry,” write the researchers on their website, “we would be extremely satisfied.”
Congrats, team Beautiful Chemistry — you’ve hooked this one.
To watch the researchers’ full videos, check out Beautiful Chemistry.
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