Though we don’t often recognize it, chemistry defines nearly every element of our everyday lives.
From the reactions that fuel the sun to the biology of our bodies to the technology in our gadgets, chemistry is at the heart of everything we do and is the central science that unites biology, physics, geology, astronomy, medicine, and countless other fields. Yet chemistry doesn’t always get the credit and recognition it deserves for playing such an awesome role in, well, everything. If you’ve been slighting chemistry, there’s no better time to give the field the credit it deserves than National Chemistry Week.
Founded in 1987, the week-long event has helped bring awareness to the role chemistry plays both in our lives today and in our future. You can get in the spirit of the event by checking out a few (or all) of these amazing chemistry videos online. Some are funny, some impressive, but all will showcase the true awesomeness of chemistry.
Amazing Reactions and Experiments
From incredible explosions to chameleon-like color changes, these experiments and demonstrations showcase some of the coolest reactions in chemistry.
- Brainiac: Thermite and Liquid Nitrogen: Think thermite reactions are super awesome? Watch an iron-melting one here that isn’t remotely controlled or cooled by the addition of liquid nitrogen.
- Oscillating Chemical Reaction: This video showcases the Briggs-Rauscher reaction, a process that turns solution clear, amber, and blue, repeating several times.
- Elephant toothpaste: This demonstration is just plain good chemistry fun. Hydrogen peroxide, potassium iodide, and dish soap are combined to create a monstrous pile of foam that the chemists in this video find particularly entertaining.
- Potassium Chlorate and Gummy Bear: There are many ways to end the short, gelatinous life of a gummy bear, but none are explosive as this method, combining potassium chlorate with a sugary gummy bear.
- Sodium and Water in Chlorine Gas: A flask of yellow chlorine gas becomes a fiery inferno with the addition of a small piece of sodium metal and a tiny drop of water.
- Burning Magnesium in Dry Ice: This video will take you through, step-by-step, how to burn magnesium in dry ice, thought it’s not something you should try at home.
- Sodium Acetate Super Saturation: In this silly video, you can watch a demonstration of a solution containing sodium acetate instantly turning into a non-crystallized solid.
- Superabsorbent Polymer: Here you can see a number of cool chemistry experiments (and some seriously dorky hosts), including an example of a super absorbent polymer and hydrophobic sand.
- Floating on Sulfur Hexafluoride: Sulphur hexafluoride gas is denser than the air in our atmosphere, a quality that allows it to give the illusion that things are floating in space, as you can see here.
- Superfluid Helium: Superfluid helium is a bizarre substance that demonstrates some seriously amazing properties. You can see just a few in this short excerpt from the BBC documentary Absolute Zero.
- Colorful Chemistry: Watch as this MIT student uses a “magic” teakettle, an illusion created by simple chemistry involving acids and bases.
- Turn Pennies Silver and Gold: Alchemists would be jealous of the process in this video that turns copper into gold (only superficially, sadly).
- Mercury thiocyanate decomposition: While it starts out slow, this video quickly picks up speed once the substances start reacting in an incredibly bizarre and a little disturbing manner. Don’t worry, the cute cacti make it through unscathed.
Learn a bit more about a wide range of chemistry topics from these engaging lectures given by researchers and scientists working in the field.
- Lee Cronin: Making matter come alive: In this TED talk, chemist Lee Cronin explains how he and his research team are working to develop chemical compounds that behave like living cells.
- Open Access in Chemistry: Will open access change chemistry? Carnegie Mellon professors Jay Apt, Dave Dzombak, Hyung Kim, and David Yaron discuss the issue here.
- The World’s Chemistry in Our Hands: Global Environmental Challenges Past and Future:Professor Susan Solomon, a professor of atmospheric chemistry and climate science at MIT, lectures here on the challenges posed by trying to balance economic concerns and environmental preservation.
- Peter Reinhart on Bread: Chemistry is at the heart of baking. A small change in one ingredient can cause major changes that alter the chemical reactions necessary for bread to rise. Learn a bit more about the chemistry fundamentals of bread baking from master breadmaker Peter Reinhart in this lecture.
- Tyrone Hayes + Penelope Jagessar Chaffer: The toxic baby?: How much do the chemicals we use in everyday life affect our health and the health of our children? Sadly, as you’ll see here, not all chemicals have a positive impact on human (and other species’) health and longevity.
- Bonnie Bassler: How bacteria “talk”: Bacteria don’t have mouths or vocal chords, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t talk to one another. Conversations between bacteria take place through the release of chemicals, a fascinating bit of organic chemistry for any chemistry buff to learn about.
- Electronic Plastics: Flexible Solutions for Today’s Energy Challenges and Tomorrow’s Wired World: Princeton grad Yueh-Lin Loo explains some of the amazing ways that chemical and biological engineering are shaping the materials that will impact energy, technology, and electronics in the future.
- Molecular Gastronomy is Not Molecular Cooking: Head to this iTunesU lecture, in two parts, to learn more about the science of molecular gastronomy, and to better understand what the term really means.
- Green Chemistry: Designing Tomorrow: Learn what role chemistry will play in developing green innovations in the years to come from Yale professor Paul Anastas.
- Writing the Blueprint for Life: In this video from the University of Chicago, chemistry aficionados will hear from professor Milan Mrksich on the challenges of designing a blueprint for organic matter and a range of other molecular engineering topics.
- The Chemistry of Sports: Running Shoe Study: While chemistry might not be the first topic that comes to mind when you think of running shoes, there’s actually some serious lab work that goes into the construction of any tennis shoe, as you’ll learn here from this MIT video.
Want a longer, more in-depth way to celebrate the study of chemistry? Here are some excellent courses from top-tier universities that will let you learn just about everything you ever wanted to know about the topic.
- Organic Chemistry: Structure and Reactivity: UC Berkeley professor Peter Vollhardt is at the head of this class, addressing topics like organic chemical structures, reactivity, and bonding, among others.
- General Chemistry: Another UC Berkeley course, this time taught by Angelica Stacy, this series of videos covers chemistry essentials like the elements, gases, thermodynamics, and chemical reactions.
- Principles of Chemical Science: Sylvia Ceyer at MIT teaches this great introductory chemistry course that can help students learn about the fundamental principles that underlay all areas of chemistry.
- Steel Making: While we like to think of steel making as a manufacturing and industrial concern, not an academic one, this series of lectures from Deepak Mazumadar will showcase the immense amount of chemistry that makes steel, and all of the products built from it, possible.
- Core Concepts in Chemistry: Duke University offers access to its introductory course in chemistry through iTunesU, helping the chemistry-curious learn more about atomic numbers, elements, energy, and other basics.
- Organic Spectroscopy: Designed for advanced students (it’s a grad level course), this 28-lecture course from UC Irvine can help introduce learners to the methods used in modern organic spectroscopy.
- Mechanisms in Organic and Organometallic Chemistry: More of a library of mechanistic types than a true course, this offering from Imperial College London is still an amazing resource for anyone looking to learn more about chemistry.
- Atomic Gases: This collection of video lectures focuses on atomic gases, touching on topics like superfluids and magnetism.
- Introduction to Solid State Chemistry: A classic from MIT’s OpenCourseWare collection, this course from Donald Sadoway explores the basic principles of chemistry and how they can be applied to engineering systems.
If you’re not yet convinced that chemistry isn’t a bore, then these videos will confirm it. You’ll see some fun and creative ways to celebrate chemistry, share knowledge, and just have fun with the topic.
- The PCR Song: This song is all about the process of analyzing DNA, which while more biology than chemistry still utilizes some key chemical processes to operate, which are lauded for their effectiveness in this song.
- Chemistry experiments gone wrong: Let’s be honest, even the most highbrow of us secretly love explosions. This video is loaded with them, all based on chemistry experiments that didn’t quite work out right.
- Good Chemistry: Eli Cirino, a 10th grade chemistry student, created this adorable video to explain basic chemical relationships. It utilizes music and a love story to make even the most basic chemistry incredibly fun and interesting.
- In Da Lab: Need a reminder of lab safety rules and possible hazards in rap form? Of course you do! That’s what you’ll find here in a video created by advanced science students.
- Mr. Bean Chemistry Experiment: Mr. Bean, the blundering British character created by Rowan Atkinson, tackles a chemistry experiment with predictably bad results in this short video.
- The Exploding Pumpkin: With Halloween on the horizon, this experiment is the perfect way to celebrate both it and National Chemistry Week through an rather unconventional method of pumpkin carving.
- Hard Candy Chemistry: Richard Hartel, professor of food engineering at UW Madison shows the simple chemistry of making hard candy in this video.
- Chemical Party: You’ll better understand chemical bonds and get a laugh out of this clever chemistry video.
- A Day without Chemistry: Think chemistry doesn’t matter to everyday life? This clever cartoon will show you in quite stark terms just how much chemistry you use and rely on every single day.
- Christmas Chemistry Show: Head to Oxford’s iTunesU site to see this amazing chemistry show. Taped in 2010, it features some really great demonstrations that are sure to get you excited about chemistry.
From video collections to takes on chemistry from big names like Carl Sagan, these videos make great viewing material both during National Chemistry Week and all year long.
- The Periodic Table of Videos: The University of Nottingham has created perhaps one of the best collections of chemistry videos to be found anywhere. Organized by element, they’re both educational and entertaining and shouldn’t be missed by any fan of chemistry.
- Drawing Carbon Nanotubes on Paper: This fascinating short video from MIT showcases the research of one student who looks for a way to better utilize carbon nanotube sensors that can detect harmful gases in the atmosphere.
- Nobel Prize Media Player: You can hear from dozens of Nobel Prize-winning chemists through the Nobel organization’s media player, found here.
- Becoming a chemist: Interested in potentially becoming a chemist? This great video offers some insights into why scientists decided to pursue chemistry as a career.
- Bill Nye The Science Guy on Chemical Reactions: No list of science videos is complete without a little something from Bill Nye. In this clip, viewers will learn about chemical reactions and see a fun demonstration that illustrates how they work.
- Carl Sagan on the Chemical Elements: Taken from the legendary Cosmos series, this video features Carl Sagan discussing atoms and the origins of our chemical elements.
- Periodic Table of Elements, Chemistry: A Volatile History: While the full-length series is well-worth checking out, those who don’t have the time can enjoy this explanation of the origins of the periodic table.