Another Saturday has passed and another great Manchester Science Festival (MSF) event has been assisted. Yes I was turning the lights on and off again and yes that practise from the previous week did help except for one “snowing” failure. Where I was over vigorous with the lights on/off switch resulting in darkness when there should have been light.

20131102_133419I don’t know if it is just my personality but I really enjoy playing second fiddle to Dr. Frank Mair’s lead during these shows. Perhaps it is because I also get to watch the show and be part of it.

Rather than trying to tell you how amazing the show was, because to be honest that is a given, I thought I would give you a quick insight into the behind the scenes action.

Behind The Scenes

Have you every wondered how much time and effort goes into the one hour spectacular which is the flash bang show? No! Well let me give you a clue. Some parts of the preparation are undertaken days in advance. The “barking dog” tubes alone can take a day to prepare. A day and they are consumed within seconds. True spectacular seconds they may be, and loud, yes loud seconds. Loud, spectacular and bright - we can not forget bright.

But what else is done on the day? This is live chemistry folks so reactions are tested to make sure that solutions are correct and colours go the way they do. This means that Frank has a very, very, very early morning and to be honest a late evening tidying up as well.

I thought I could portray some of this hard work using the medium of photography……….

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But Frank wouldn’t stand still long enough so they all came out blurry. Don’t believe me?


Yes that is four blurry pictures of Frank getting, measuring, mixing, testing and generally doing lots of things. I did finally get one focussed shot of him pouring! With a great deal of focus and concentration as well!


It was I think at this point one of the reactions was not working and the quality of the starch solution was called into doubt. This left me to head out to the local Chinese cash-and-carry (W. H. Lungs) to purchase a bag of starch (tapioca in this case because it was the cheapest) and a banana. When I’d returned Frank had prepared the Oxygen test and the cardice acidity test.

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The Actual Show

Ok I guess that is enough talking about the preparation what about the show itself? Well we had fireworks…

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Magnesium powder burning in cardice, which was a first for me and utterly amazing……..


….and well it did take a bit of time to get ready due to a slight technical malfunction with the gas burner and no one being able to turn the overly tightened tap back on to make fire.

Plus for people not interested in fireworks or burning metals there was the classics such as “elephants” toothpaste……

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although I couldn’t convince Frank to put it into a conical flask this time it was still pretty impressive to watch. It always is……….

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Some of the more observant of you may have noticed purple balloons in some of the shots and well no purple balloons in the others.

How do you pop hydrogen filled purple balloons if you are a chemist? The answer is with a stream of fire.

And no I didn’t get a picture of it. I got a picture just after it. You know I was busy turning the lights on and off after all.

And yes I know it looks like Frank is breathing fire. Perhaps he was!!!![20131102_155114](/images/2013/11/20131102_155114.jpg)

I must admit to have had a great time during the last few shows and look forward to being able to help out and assist in future shows. I am also going to take the opportunity to tell you about stemnet and to remind you that from the 16th until the 23rd November 2013 is Chemistry Week and and the RSC has lots of things planned so check out their website. This year it has a very foody theme…………..


……………..that reminds me you are probably wondering what happened to the banana I went out and retrieved from W. H. Lungs? Well lets say it met with a frosty bath in liquid nitrogen (-196°C) followed by a rather shocking experience with a claw-hammer._ …………………………………………………………………………..I didn’t know Frank hated bananas so much!_