Gigglebit: 9 eye-popping science experiments captured in GIF form

11 Nov 2014

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Spiral waves in the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction (left) and in D. discoideum. Image via PNAS.org

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Gigglebit is Siliconrepublic’s daily dose of the funny and fantastic in science and tech, to help start your day on a lighter note.

With Gigglebit, we turn the spotlight on humorous and/or amazing content about science and tech, because sometimes the lighter side should be taken seriously, too.

This week, in honour of Ireland’s 19th annual Science Week, we’re focusing on science and today’s edition intends to amaze.

The theme of Science Week 2014 is ‘the power of science’ and co-ordinators SFI Discover plan on bringing this to schools, colleges, research institutes, companies, libraries and community centres across the country.

From the safety of the internet, we’re doing our bit to bring the power of science to your computer screens, with short glimpses of these powerful, mind-blowing experiments.

1. Elephant toothpaste

Elephant toothpaste experiment GIF

Elephant toothpast GIF via nugwain/GIFSoup

This experiment – also known as the iodine snake or the marshmallow experiment – has been many a young science student’s first and its explosive nature creates lasting memories. The reaction is caused by the rapid decomposition of hydrogen peroxide brought on by a catalyst, usually potassium iodide. The foaming explosion is the result of the secret ingredient: regular old liquid soap.

2. The ‘Whoosh’ bottle

Whoosh bottle experiment GIF

‘Whoosh’ bottle GIF via obox/Reddit

In this popular classroom experiment demonstrating the fire triangle, a mixture of alcohol and air is ignited in a large polycarbonate bottle. The result is a rapid combustion reaction, often accompanied by a dramatic ‘whoosh’ sound – hence the name.

3. Electrical treeing

Electrical treeing experiment GIF

Electrical treeing GIF via Scopolamina/Reddit

It looks stunning but electrical ‘treeing’ is a damaging process caused by partial discharges. When this progresses through the stressed dielectric insulation, the result is this dendritic charge-drainage system – or a tree-like form, to those of us who haven’t studied electrical engineering.

4. Hot ice

Hot ice experiment GIF

Hot ice GIF via ‘hot ice (sodium acetate) beautiful science experiment’ by mike shin on YouTube

When sodium acetate trihydrate crystals are heated past their melting point, the resulting liquid can be allowed to cool to room temperature without reforming crystlals. In this GIF, a crystal of sodium acetate is introduced to the solution, which prompts the formation of crystals from a nucleation centre.

5. Burning ‘Vesuvian fire’

Vesuvian fire experiment GIF

Burning Vesuvian fire GIF via ‘ammonium dichromate volcano’ by miffsmith7 on YouTube

Ammonium dichromate earned the nickname ‘Vesuvian fire’ for the way it looks when it’s set alight and its common use in science classrooms for tabletop volcano demonstrations.

6. The iodine clock

Iodine clock experiment GIF

Iodine clock GIF ‘Incredible Chemical Reaction!’ by brusspup on YouTube

This chemical clock experiment demonstrates chemical kinetics in action and requires the mixing of very specific proportions of sodium sulfite, citric acid and sodium iodate. At first, all you get is a boring old glass of colourless liquid then, BOOM! Instant midnight. The inky blackness is the result of a change in concentration brought on by the mixture and, because the iodine clock depends so much on the proportion of the ingredients, you can even reverse the reaction with the slightest adjustment.

Iodine clock experiment GIF in reverse

7. The Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction

Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction GIF

Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction via Giphy

If you thought that chemical reactions are ruled by equilibrium thermodynamic behaviour, you were wrong! The Belousov-Zhabotinsky or BZ reaction is an oscillating chemical reaction that can be observed when bromine is added to an acid solution in a petri dish, providing a chemical model of nonequilibrium biological phenomena.

8. Explosive polymerisation

Explosive polymerization experiment GIF

GIF via ‘EXP 1. Explosive Polymerization of p Nitro Aniline’ by plasticraincoat1 on YouTube

What looks like an overly strong cup of coffee is actually a process called ‘explosive polymerisation’ which occurs, in this case, when a few drops of concentrated sulfuric acid are added to about half a teaspoon of p-nitroaniline and heated over a Bunsen burner. Less than a minute later, this cup of punch-in-the-face is what you get. That’ll wake you up, alright.

9. Pharaoh’s serpent

Pharaoh's serpent experiment GIF

Pharaoh’s serpent GIF via torrential_sinuses/Reddit

Basically, if you bring on the decomposition of mercury(II) thiocyanate by lighting this seemingly innocent white powder, you unleash the Kraken.

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Elaine Burke is managing editor of Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com